Submissions to a fast-tracked inquiry into the abortion bill before the NSW parliament focus on key amendments, such as sex selection and the timeline for terminations.
The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 has passed the Legislative Assembly and a quick inquiry is being run before a vote in the Legislative Council. Most of the submissions by people or groups identified as Christian argue for tightening the bill. The submissions made public by the inquiry can be found here. The current text of the bill is here.
“Doctor Mark Hobart was disciplined by the Medical Board of Victoria.” – Australian Christian Lobby
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) submission, for example, notes that the time of viability for an unborn baby is being revised downwards. “Modern technology has brought us to an inconsistent situation that defies any basis in reason: in one room a child may be aborted and left to die at twenty-four weeks of age, in another room in the same hospital a whole team of specialists will work for countless hours and celebrate the survival of a child of equivalent age. The sole distinguishing factor between these two babies is whether or not another human being desires the child to survive.”
On sex selection – which was a key debate in the lower house and a likely subject of an amendment – the ACL recounts the experience of a Melbourne doctor. “Mark Hobart was disciplined by the Medical Board of Victoria when he was accused of having committed an offence under the state’s controversial Abortion Law Reform Act of 2008. His patient and her husband requested a sex-selection abortion after an ultrasound determined their foetus was female. They wanted a boy, because they already had a daughter, the husband told Dr Hobart, who, as a practising Catholic, had a conscientious objection to providing the abortion. Under Victorian law, he was obliged to refer the patient to a doctor he knew would terminate the pregnancy.”
The ACL also notes that “Pressure to abort [is strong] … consequently 90% of babies with Down syndrome are aborted. ”
As previously reported by Eternity, The Freedom For Faith submission raises a drafting error in the “conscientious objection” section of the bill. They make a wider point “The Bill should include an express waiver from participation on the grounds of conscience. The Tasmanian legislation gives an example of this, where there is no duty for a conscientious objector to participate in the termination of pregnancy outside of an emergency.”
Family Voice Australia suggests a review of the Act if passed after three years rather than five. Its submission also raises the issue of pain felt by a foetus in an abortion.
“This Bill demands more consultation with the community.” – Glenn Davies
The members of the Legislative Council, the NSW Upper house, need to take great care with this bill, according to Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney.
“As a House of Review, it is the task of the Legislative Council, not merely to rubber-stamp decisions of the Legislative Assembly but to consider the merits of any Bill and its effect upon the people of NSW. When a Private Member’s Bill comes before the House, and a conscience vote has been allowed by all political parties, it is especially important that the Bill receive the utmost scrutiny.
“With this in mind, I consider the significance of this Bill demands more consultation with the community than the limited opportunity that the present enquiry has to provide a comprehensive analysis of the text of this Bill given the emotionally charged subject of abortion.”
Margaret A. Somerville, professor of Bioethics at University of Notre Dame Australia, suggests a very different approach to laws and the timeline of abortion.
“It should not be a legal issue until 12 weeks of gestation.” – Margaret Somerville
“Most Australians are not adamantly pro-Choice, that is, they do not accept the strongest pro-Choice stance that abortion at any stage of pregnancy is a decision solely for the pregnant woman and that the law should never be involved. Nor are most adamantly pro-Life, that is, they do not accept the strongest pro-Life stance that abortion should never be legally allowed. As a 2017 NSW Galaxy Poll evidenced, most Australians are on a spectrum between these two poles.1
“For the record, my personal position is that abortion is always a very serious moral and ethical issue, but it should not be a legal issue until 12 weeks of gestation because, with the availability of chemical abortion, the law is unable to implement prohibitions on abortion before that time and ineffectiveness brings all law on abortion into disrepute and makes it less likely to be enforced when it could be.”
Margaret Mayman, Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church and a Charles Sturt University lecturer in Theological Ethics, gives a progressive view. “In the face of strident (sometimes violent) religious opposition to abortion, some feminists have stated that abortion is a health issue, not an ethical issue. I believe it is both. However, unlike some other religious voices in this space, I consider the choice for abortion can be a morally good choice, and that it is morally wrong to coerce a woman into an unwanted pregnancy.”
Most of the submissions from secular bodies seek the bill to be passed with no further amendments, accepting previously passed changes (such as a legislative requirement for informed consent) with some degree of reluctance. An example of this approach is taken by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). “RANZCOG notes the amendment to clause 5 passed in the Legislative Assembly which makes specific reference to the need for informed consent in accordance with any applicable guidelines. In RANZCOG’s view, this amendment was unnecessary because the requirement to obtain informed consent is inherent in every medical encounter and is a fundamental element of the doctor/patient relationship. However, as long as this requirement is not implemented in a way that creates a barrier to accessing abortion, it is consistent with current clinical practice.”