Reader straw-poll: if the New South Wales parliament was poised to enact the most extreme abortion laws in the country (perhaps in the world), including unrestricted abortion until the moment of birth, should the people of the state be given the barest courtesy of an explanation – perhaps even a modicum of consultation?
That’s the question I have been forced to ask my colleagues this week, after legislators from across the political divide tried to ride roughshod over parliamentary procedure and pass abortion laws that barely anyone in the state has even heard of. If democracy dies in darkness, this week it is on life support in NSW.
Sensibly, parliamentary consideration of the bill has been delayed, albeit by just a week, providing a brief window to shine some light on the proposed law, and allowing citizens to let MPs know what they think.
The only reason proponents of this law are rushing it through is that they know it doesn’t pass the pub test. Here’s why.
First, it is not what it seems. So far it has essentially been presented as a “nothing to see here” initiative to decriminalise abortion in NSW. The current laws have been described as “archaic” and the new legislation as a move “119 years in the making”.
Proponents have also been keen to emphasise the bill would decriminalise abortion up to 22 weeks, while beyond that point more stringent safeguards would apply. But this palatable sales pitch – “it’s time, and it’s tame” – hides a far more sinister reality.
The fact is, the law being rushed through our Parliament would indeed make abortion legal in NSW all the way up to birth, with no meaningful restrictions whatsoever. All that would be required for a late-term abortion is that two doctors consent.
Those two doctors wouldn’t need to be independent from one another. They needn’t give reasons. And while the bill requires them to “consider” all relevant medical circumstances, there is no requirement that they be satisfied – or certify – that the abortion is necessary for the health of the mother.
What’s more, there are no criminal sanctions for a doctor who flouts this requirement and performs an abortion beyond 22 weeks without the consent of an additional doctor.
In short, this bill removes every reasonable restriction, all the way to birth, ruthlessly dispensing with any last vestige of the notion that the baby in the womb is a human being whose life is worthy of any protection at all. This is inhumane – and completely out of step with community expectations.
When I speak to people, the overwhelming majority are horrified at the prospect of late-term abortion on demand – even those who are OK with abortion early in a pregnancy.
Most people have great compassion for women facing an unplanned pregnancy. But if proponents of the bill were serious about protecting the interests of women, it would have included a criminal offence for coercing a woman into having an abortion – one of the worst forms of domestic violence that can be perpetrated against a woman and her child.
I would also argue most people have compassion for the child, and the closer that child is to full term, the more people expect abortion to be predicated on a genuine, pressing reason, such as preserving the life and health of the mother.
For constituents with grave moral misgivings about abortion under any circumstances, the prospect of late-term abortion becoming routine in NSW is even more abhorrent. This is especially the case for doctors with a moral objection to abortion. And it is at this point that this radical legislation goes into truly totalitarian territory.
The bill compels any doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients to a doctor who will perform one. It then goes on to threaten the registration of doctors who fail to comply with this requirement, callously raising the guillotine of professional misconduct sanctions above the stethoscopes hanging around their necks.
This provision makes a mockery of conscientious objection. It is a thinly veiled attempt to purge the medical profession of doctors who refuse to end the lives of unborn children.
At most, the law should require doctors to do no more than refer patients to a neutral information service. But no doctors should be forced to assist or facilitate in any way a procedure they believe involves taking an innocent human life.
This bill represents an unjust and illiberal law. My hope is that it won’t pass, because I believe the community won’t stand for it.
It fails women, it fails doctors, it fails the electorate, and it fails the most innocent, most voiceless, most powerless members of our society: unborn children.
This extreme bill should not proceed. Unless you take this opportunity to give your MP an earful, it will.
Damien Tudehope is the NSW Minister for Finance and Small Business and a Liberal member of the state upper house. This article has been republished from the Sydney Morning Herald with the author’s permission.