Like many in this House, I support a woman’s right to make choices about their own reproductive health.
It’s a point of view I know I share many on this side of the House and many of those opposite.
While I appreciate that there are a variety of views on the issue of abortion, like many women in NSW, I was dismayed to hear the Minister Davies announce that she was pro-life in her very first comments as the Minister for Women.
A number of women in my electorate contacted me to let me know of their concern upon hearing those comments.
In almost all cases, they did not object to the Minister's personal right to an alternative view—and nor do I.
What they did object to, however, was a Minister who identified as being “pro-life” being appointed the Minister for Women.
The role of the Minister for Women is to advocate for women’s rights in the Parliament and in the Cabinet, and women in NSW are right to question whether she will be able to adequately fulfil that role.
As we know, the NSW Crimes Act 1900 prohibits unlawfully procuring an abortion, and termination is punishable by imprisonment for up to ten years.
In 1971, the NSW District Court updated the circumstances in which an abortion might be deemed to be lawful.
However, currently abortion services are almost entirely limited to private clinics and only after jumping through convoluted legal loopholes.
As Family Planning NSW notes,
“In NSW, an abortion is only lawful if the woman’s doctor believes on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to avoid a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health, taking into account economic and social factors as well as medical ones, and the risks of the abortion are not out of proportion to the danger to be averted. Women are not entitled to abortion on demand.”
That will come as a surprise to many, who would assume that women have no impediment to exercising their reproductive rights.
In the past few months, we have seen legislation introduced in the other place to strengthen those rights:
The Hon Mehreen Faruqi’s Bill was debated in the last sitting session and was unfortunately voted down.
I want to take this opportunity to make clear that if the Bill had come to the Legislative Assembly, I would have supported it.
Speaker, I am pleased that the Hon Penny Sharpe’s Bill to establish exclusion zones around reproductive health clinics has been introduced in the other place and will be debated shortly.
I am also pleased that support for Ms Sharpe’s Bill also passed the recent NSW State Labor Conference.
The Bill seeks to establish a 150m exclusion zone around health services that provide family planning, reproductive health and abortion services in NSW.
Disgracefully, when women access a reproductive health clinic, they are forced to navigate a gauntlet of protesters, often waving photographs of aborted foetuses.
Exclusion zones will prohibit behaviour such as harassment, intimidation, interference, threats and obstruction, as well as barring recording of video and photos without consent.
Women in one of the most difficult times of their lives – facing one of the most personal and emotional decisions of their lives – should be free from harassment.
Ms Sharpe has been collecting stories from women faced with this kind of behaviour and I want to take this opportunity to read one into Hansard:
“I was trying to enter an abortion clinic in Surry Hills in 2015 for my procedure. I was harassed by a woman, who not only shoved gruesome photos of fetuses in my face, but also verbally abused me, including saying “that I was making the biggest mistake of my life”. I should not be abused for making a decision for myself and my body. It is nobody else’s place to judge me for having an abortion, including the woman I encountered that day. I support safe access zones because women deserve respect and should not be attacked when they are undergoing what is ultimately a very emotionally and physically draining experience.”
Speaker, it is clear we need action to protect women.
It is clear we need leadership from the Minister appointed to represent them.