Three weeks ago, Parliament voted decisively to reject a bill that would have decriminalised abortion. Members of the New South Wales Legislative Council voted 25 to 14 against the Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill put forward by Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi. This extreme bill would have removed all legal restrictions on abortion and replaced them with abortion on demand until birth, with no framework to avoid sex-selective or disability-selective abortion. It would also have removed important legal safeguards against coercion.
The vote on the Faruqi bill was the result of several years of single-issue campaigning by the Greens, who have long argued in favour of abortion as an absolute, unquestionable right. However it is not just the bill’s defeat, but the manner in which it was defeated, that should give all Greens members cause for thought.
Several of the 14 MLCs who voted in favour of the bill stood up in the debate to argue against it and to criticise Mehreen Faruqi personally for her handling of the matter. Labor’s Walt Secord eloquently pointed out some of the bill’s gaping flaws: ‘As the shadow health minister for the last three years I have not received a single representation on abortion or the need for legal clarification – until [Mehreen Faruqi] began her campaign,’ he said. ‘Dr Faruqi’s legislation has not provided a legal framework to allow medically approved abortions to occur. She’s removed that – with nothing in its place.The bill in its current form places no limit on the gestation at which an abortion can be performed, it does not mandate if it can be performed by a clinician, it does not provide a framework.’
The obvious and concerning flaws in her bill, and its humiliating failure, call to mind the failed legislation in Queensland earlier in the year proposed by Rob Pyne, who was forced to withdraw two bills after politicians in that state refused to support them. Queensland MPs spoke particularly of their concerns over the potential dangerous consequences that could arise from such poorly written laws. The Faruqi bill suffered from exactly the same problems, and yet Mehreen Faruqi and others have claimed numerous times that there is public support for decriminalisation. In the debate, Mehreen Faruqi cited a poll conducted by the Greens to insist that a majority of people in NSW were in support of her extreme proposals.
But how accurate is this claim? In an independent poll conducted by respected polling organisation Galaxy Research from 26th – 30th April 2017, just 5 per cent of respondents supported abortion at any time until birth and only 16 per cent believed current abortion laws should be made less restrictive. 68 per cent believe the current law is about right or not restrictive enough. Despite being repeatedly asked to provide further information such as raw data and methodology, the Greens have not yet published the full results of their survey, conducted back in 2015. However, Galaxy have published comprehensive results of their poll conducted only a few weeks ago, which shows that public opinion in NSW is firmly against further loosening abortion laws – let alone legalising the procedure up to birth. The Galaxy polling also reveals that many NSW residents are deeply uncomfortable with the current laxity of abortion regulation. More than 1 in 4 people (26 per cent) reported personally knowing someone who was pressured into an abortion, while 90 per cent of respondents said they believed that a woman should receive free independent counselling before having an abortion from a source with no financial interest in her decision.
The Faruqi bill also caused deep concern about the effects it could have on women’s health. 81 per cent say they believe that abortion can harm the physical or mental health of a woman; nearly all believe women ought to be informed of the physical and psychological risks before undergoing the procedure.
Women’s rights advocates also echoed these concerns. Speaking before the vote took place, Rachael Wong, director of research, policy and advocacy at Women’s Forum Australia, warned that if passed, the Faruqi bill would ‘remove long-standing protections for women and open them up to the dangers inherent in late-term and backyard abortions, as well as making them more vulnerable to coerced abortion and incompetent medical practitioners.’
As Walt Secord observed, despite pushing to abolish all current restrictions on abortion in NSW, Mehreen Faruqi has not stated what, if any, regulation should follow to protect vulnerable women who are at risk of being pressured or forced into undergoing an abortion.
But Labor MLC, Penny Sharpe, has proposed another piece of abortion-related legislation. Her bill, currently before the Parliament, is aimed at supporting abortion clinics rather than giving any help to pregnant women. Sharpe’s plan is to create 150-metre ‘exclusion zones’ around all abortion clinics in NSW.
This has nothing to do with helping pregnant women unsure about their decision, nor, as Sharpe would have you believe, does it have anything to do with protecting women from violent protesters blockading clinics. The police already have all the powers they need to tackle genuine occurrences of harassment or intimidation. But the simple truth is that the situation Sharpe is describing doesn’t exist. As Chris Ashton wrote on Flat White three weeks ago, ‘as if to mock the idea of a buffer zone, there is usually a solitary elderly protester praying outside and gently offering leaflets for the pregnancy crisis centre across the road.’
Sharpe’s bill is nothing more than a smokescreen for trying to clamp down on any public expression of pro-life opinions.
Penny Sharpe voted for the Faruqi bill. In the debate, she stated openly that what she really wants to see is abortion decriminalised. The only difference is that she disagrees with Mehreen Faruqi’s approach.
Instead, her current focus on ‘exclusion zones’ is part of an incremental approach which aims to creep closer and closer to abortion advocates’ real goal, which remains unchanged: abortion up to birth on demand. The truth is that the supporters of the Faruqi bill won’t accept the recent vote as a defeat. Mehreen Faruqi herself stated that it was ‘only the start… we will only move forward from here’. And they can’t understand the public outrage that comes with the horrific suggestion that it should become legal to perform an abortion on a fully viable 9-month-old unborn child minutes before delivery. Instead they just see this as a minor setback on the road to their extremist goal.
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