explainer

Enough's enough, New South Wales. It's time to decriminalise abortion.

Overnight Queensland Parliament voted in favour of decriminalising abortion up to 22 weeks gestation. A vote that respects the right of women to have agency over their own body. To make decisions about family planning without risk of a seven-year prison sentence.

A vote that brings Australia’s most conservative state into the 21st century and in line with the rest of the country.

Almost.

South of the border, New South Wales remains an outlier. The sole state or territory where abortion remains entrenched in the criminal code. It’s clung to these laws ever since they were penned 118 years ago.

Today in the ‘First State’, a women can only legally obtain an abortion if her doctor determines that the pregnancy poses a serious danger to her physical or mental health. Not even instances of rape, incest or foetal abnormality are considered exceptions.

Should a woman be convicted of illegally procuring an abortion she faces up to ten years behind bars, and the same penalty applies to the doctor who performs the procedure.

While prosecution is relatively rare, it does happen. In 2017, a 28-year-old NSW woman was convicted and sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond, after she procured an at-home medical abortion with pills she purchased online. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the woman’s boyfriend had urged her to terminate the pregnancy.

The NSW parliament had an opportunity to toss out this archaic law last year, when Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi introduced a bill to have abortion removed from the state’s Crimes Act and common law.

It was voted down, 25 votes to 14.

This, despite the fact that polling consistently indicates that 80 per cent of Australians support legal access to abortion.

Despite the fact that the United Nations labels the criminalisation of abortion as form of gender discrimination, as it prevents women from accessing health care.

Despite the fact that denying a woman access to abortion negatively impacts her mental wellbeing.

Enough’s enough.

Pro-choice advocates are hopeful the result in Queensland will build pressure beneath Macquarie Street.

Renee Carr, Executive Director of women’s advocacy organisation Fair Agenda, was among those tearfully celebrating in the public gallery as Queensland’s law passed on Wednesday, 50 votes to 41.

“For the women who have been turned away from public hospitals when they’ve been needing abortion care, for the women who’ve been affected by sexual violence and domestic violence and faced increased threats and barriers to access because abortion was in the criminal code, this is such a significant change,” she said.

“I would hope that the historic vote in Queensland would lead to commitment from MPs to support this desperately needed reform in NSW as well.”

Though the physical and mental wellbeing of women is the driving impetus for the change, so too is equality.

“I think that [men and women] can not be truly equal until we have the same right to control whether and when we become a parent,” she said.

“So to maintain abortion in the criminal code and to deny a person who needs abortion care the legal right to make that decision for themselves is an affront to our dignity and equality.”

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Speaking to Mamamia, Adrianne Walters, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said NSW is “woefully” out of step with prevailing community values and medical practice on the issue.

“I think what [NSW law] says is that women can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. And that is an incredibly outdated notion,” she said.

“It’s imposing the values of 1900 to control what women can do with their bodies in 2018.”

To affect change, Walters urges constituents in NSW to contact their MP.

“Tell them why it’s important that this becomes a reality in law,” she said, “why it’s not okay to discriminate against women in terms of accessing important reproductive health care; why it’s not OK for NSW to have laws that take away the right of a woman to decide what happens to her body.”

Get it done, NSW. The welfare of women depends on it.

If you are in need of support relating to an unplanned pregnancy, help is available. Please call Marie Stopes Australia‘s support line on 1300 336 043 to speak to a trained counsellor. Crisis support is also available via Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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