I’m not giving up my fight to decriminalise abortion in NSW

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 Earlier this month, the Upper House of NSW Parliament voted down a bill to take abortion offences out of the NSW Crimes Act of 1900.

Reactions from supporters of this reform have ranged from shock to anger and embarrassment. For many in the community, it was hard to believe that in the year 2017 a majority of the members of parliament refused to overturn an archaic, outdated law that criminalises women and doctors for a medical procedure.


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While the Liberal and National MPs had been granted a conscience vote, they chose to vote as a bloc – and only one deemed it necessary to tell the community why they were voting against taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.

Tribalism was chosen over transparency, accountability or even courage. Their actions made a mockery of the idea that the floor of parliament is a place for debate and not pre-determined outcomes.

Bizarrely, a group of anti-choice Christian Democratic Party supporters dressed up as ‘angels’ were beating drums and chanting outside parliament while debate on the bill was taking place. The chanting got louder and louder as it became evident that the bill would not succeed. The absence of voices for the “no” vote inside parliament was in stark contrast to the absurdity of the loud medieval ritual happening outside.

Many times during the campaign for this reform I was told to stop, to not upset the applecart because it would only make things worse, or that now was not the right time. But how are we ever going to achieve change unless we start talking about it? Well, the taboo over discussing abortion has now well and truly been broken.

Whether they deigned to speak publicly on the bill or not, each and every MP and political party room had to confront and think about abortion and the implications of current laws for women’s right to choose. While this historic bill has not been successful this time around, the hundred year silence over discussing abortion law reform in NSW Parliament has been broken.

No doubt there is disappointment, but far greater is the determination to ensure people in NSW have the same reproductive rights granted to those who live in Victoria, the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania. More people than ever are awakened to the injustice of the lack of autonomy, access and availability under the current laws.

This debate was not just about the semantics of clarifying an ambiguous law, but in recognition of the fact that having abortion access teetering on a legal loophole is just not good enough.

Importantly, it was also about removing the very real barriers that doctors and patients face in being able to perform and access a medical service.

I am confident that we have taken the first big step on the trajectory of attaining reproductive autonomy for women and all people needing access to abortion. I am optimistic because we have seen that the anti-choice lobby has nothing to support their position other than their same old and tired scare campaigns and red herrings. Their false and mythical arguments could not hide the religious moralism behind them. But such religious beliefs, no matter how deep they run, should have no place in public policy or laws of a country that claims to separate church and state.

So the inevitable question is where to from here? Was the defeat of the bill the end, or just the beginning?

We have broken the silence that has plagued this parliament over a question as deeply fundamental as recognising the reproductive rights and autonomy of women. There is no stepping back now.

Forcing debate on the bill revealed a number of things which would not have come to light otherwise. Firstly, there are supporters of decriminalising abortion across the political spectrum, whether they have made that position public or not. This will help create a path to bring them together.

In addition, the arguments presented by those who opposed the abortion law reform bill were either non-existent or rather weak. This leaves the door open to convince them otherwise.

The advocates of this reform always knew it would be a tough task, and possibly a long journey. But change is on the way and we can only go forward from here.

Mehreen Faruqi is a Member of the NSW Legislative Council for the Greens. 

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