Women who have abortions in NSW face 10 years in jail. It's 2017.

I was brushing my teeth when I heard on the radio that a bill to decriminalise abortion would be debated in NSW parliament today.

‘About time’, I thought, imagining the positive, albeit reflective, article I’d write at the end of the day. After the conscience vote was completed and the bill passed through.

LOL. Joke’s on me. You see, I forgot. 

I forgot the NSW Parliament is run three-to-one by white male ministers. (If you don’t believe me, click here.)

The bill wasn’t outrageous.

Minister Mehreen Faruqi from the Greens wasn’t offering to provide abortion ‘discounts’ or ‘benefits’ or ‘coupon codes’. She wasn’t urging women to rush out and terminate pregnancies without a second thought.

No. All she was trying to do was remove the procedure from the criminal code. Because, at the moment, that’s where we’re at: abortion in NSW is listed on the Crimes Act.

The protests outside NSW Parliament this morning. Image: Getup (Supplied)

Yes, previous legal cases have ruled doctors can administer abortions if they deem the pregnancy a 'risk' to the woman's physical or mental health.

But there are still legal hurdles to jump over. And, for patients, who are already feeling confused and torn and raw and vulnerable, the threat of facing criminal charges makes things more difficult. Unnecessarily so.

"The bill I’m proposing makes no changes to the health process and rules of how abortions are performed," Dr Faruqi told media.

"It just makes sure that abortion comes out of the crimes act and is dealt as a health procedure.”

Oh, and there were two other amendments:

  • Doctors who are morally opposed to abortion would be obligated to refer patients onto a doctor who will help them
  • And 150 meter 'safe access' zones would be mandatory around abortion clinics to prevent the harassment or staff and patients.

"There is nothing in this bill that's controversial," Campaigns Director for GetUp Emily Mulligan told Mamamia. 

Listen: Donald Trump's approach to abortion law is even more disturbing. (Post continues after audio.)

"What is 'controversial' is women facing the threat of up to 10 years in prison because of making a decision about their own bodies."


The argument for dismissing the bill is an old one. If you really wanted to be 'controversial', you could call it 'fear mongering'.

That, with decriminalisation, all regulation would also disappear and the market would be opened to backyard abortionists and people forcing women into terminating their unborn children.

“Removing all prohibitions against unlawful abortion and not suggesting any regulations to fill the void puts women at risk of various things such as backyard abortionists, coerced abortions, unscrupulous and incompetent medical practitioners,” the Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy at the Women’s Forum Australia Rachael Wong also told media.

Image: GetUp. (Supplied.)

“It allows abortion to be performed by anyone, at any stage, for any reason and that’s where the risks come in.”

Never mind that any procedure performed on anyone - man or woman, pregnant or not - without their consent is illegal. It would continue to be illegal if abortion was removed from the criminal code.

Never mind that Dr Fariqu was not proposing changes to rules or regulations in the medical arena. Abortions, being a medical procedure, would still be subject to the same regulations as any other medical procedure.

Never mind that this bill - the one the NSW government failed to pass today - was very similar to those that have been passed in Canberra and the Northern Territory and Western Australia, all places where abortion is currently legal.

"There should be profound disappointment in the NSW parliament," Mulligan said.

"It has not listened to the calls of women, and it's a really personal and intimate issue to have to continue protesting."

Image via Getup. Supplied.

It was 1900 in NSW when a table of men wrote up the Crimes Act and dedicated section 82-84 to declaring abortion unlawful.

That's two years before women were given the right to vote. And 25 years before the first woman would be elected as a representative in 1925 the State Parliament.

Let that sink in. The abortion laws were written 117 years ago by a bunch of white men.

Today, the same laws were upheld by a bunch of (mostly) white men.

Oh, Australia. Look how far you've come.