Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019

(Debate on Legislative Council Amendments, 26 September 2019, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I move:

That the House agree to the Legislative Council amendments.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill, as amended in the other place, represents collaborations, compromises and negotiations by all members of both Houses of the New South Wales Parliament working to establish the abortion law reform that New South Wales needs. I thank the Hon. Penny Sharpe for introducing the bill in the other place and for leading what was a respectful, robust and very long debate—some 72 hours, all up, in both Houses. Penny's consistent, determined leadership has ensured the bill is in good shape and that abortion will be decriminalised in New South Wales.

The amendments added by the Legislative Council will: change the name of the Act to Abortion Law Reform Act; clarify informed consent provisions to ensure authorised persons can make decisions about terminations on a patient's behalf; mandate medical care for a child born alive; require doctors to provide information about counselling services after 22 weeks; and allow doctors with a conscientious objection to comply with requirements by providing a pamphlet approved by NSW Health. In short, the amendments will: put in place a review into sex selection, resulting in new professional standards; require that non-identifying data be collected about abortions performed in New South Wales; ensure the domestic violence offence of intimidation captures coercing a person to receive or not receive an abortion, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison; recognise that doctors performing abortions after 22 weeks can seek advice from a multi-disciplinary team or hospital advisory committee.

After consultation, the health Minister, without whom this legislation would not have been possible, and the co-sponsors of the bill, believe that these amendments do not create any new barriers for women seeking access to safe and legal abortions in New South Wales. I note that a number of amendments that would have created new barriers were consistently voted down. I will save further remarks for my contribution in reply, including responding to any clarifications members may request.

I pay separate tribute, though, to the role of the National Party during this process in ensuring that the bill has safeguards that will put community concerns about this important reform to rest and in ensuring that the voices of women in rural and regional communities were heard when decisions were made about this bill. Working with Trevor Khan, most of the amendments to this bill come from National Party members—either from the member for Port Macquarie or the Hon. Niall Blair—and I am grateful for the constructive and thoughtful way they have sought to improve this bill. The Parliament has had a long journey that has involved teamwork and partnerships between members from all political persuasions and different parts of the State. The bill is now in a state that represents the wants and needs of the majority of this Parliament, and I propose that the Legislative Council amendments be agreed to.

(See other member's' contributions HERE)

In reply:

I thank all members for the role they have played in this historic reform. Every member of this Parliament can feel proud that part of our legacy will be the decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales. I will address a concern raised by the member for Newtown. I acknowledge her work and leadership. I also acknowledge the consistent commitment of Senator Mehreen Faruqi, who is here, and Abigail Boyd from The Greens in the upper House. I acknowledge that at stages throughout this debate the member for Newtown has understandably been extremely frustrated by the process. However, I am greatly appreciative of the leadership role she has played in the bill coming to the Parliament.

Regarding the amendments around sex selection, the requirements for NSW Health to provide recommendations about how to prevent the practice of performing terminations for the purpose of sex selection recognise that the New South Wales Parliament does not support the practice. We have no evidence that terminations are occurring for the purpose of sex selection. The review will be able to inform us on the matter. The new provision sets up a framework for New South Wales to provide guidelines on preventing the practice. The provision should not be seen in any way to be about reducing women's autonomy and choices, or mandating questions or suspicion in the doctor-patient relationship. We heard very clearly about the perverse impacts of that. That is why some amendments on this were voted down.

I also acknowledge and thank the member for Summer Hill for her contribution and the role she has played as part of the working group in getting this legislation to the Parliament. The member for Summer Hill is a wonderful person to work with and we would not have this reform without her. I also acknowledge all of the co-sponsors who have brought this bill to the Parliament. They represent all parts of the State and all political viewpoints. It is because of the work of those 15 co-sponsors and the working group of the member for Summer Hill, the Hon. Penny Sharpe, the Hon. Trevor Khan and me, with indeed the wonderful oversight of health Minister Brad Hazzard, that we are here today.

Of course, our role is simply to facilitate the passage of this legislation. It follows decades of work from women's rights campaigners, activists and people in the Parliament. I particularly pay tribute to someone who is not here with us today but who I know is watching in the United Kingdom, Wendy McCarthy. Wendy has sat patiently throughout most of the debate. She unfortunately could not be here for this moment but we feel her here in this room.

I thank all organisations who were tireless in working with us to get the bill here, including the NSW Pro‑Choice Alliance—and I shout out to and acknowledge the patience of Sinead Canning throughout this process—and the Human Rights Law Centre. I partnered with that organisation to achieve marriage equality and on this reform. I am grateful for their work. Family Planning NSW has been fantastic throughout this. We have had the support of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Australian Medical Association at all times. I promise Fiona Davies I will stop bothering her on the phone early in the morning and late at night. Of course, I thank Our Bodies Our Choices and, as the member for Blue Mountains has said, we have had the fearless Claire Pullen support us throughout this process.

I say a big thank you to Parliamentary Counsel. They have worked overtime to support all members on all sides of this debate through various iterations of various amendments. I am sure they will be quite relaxed as the bill finally passes. I thank all of our staff and all of the staff of the Parliament. This process has been trying for everyone, from the Special Constables to all of the people in all parts of this building. When I introduced the bill I acknowledged that it was my grandmother's birthday that day. She was a great woman. I now acknowledge another great woman whose birthday is today, Tammie Nardone. This bill would not be possible without Tammie. She has worked tirelessly to get us to this point. In conclusion, I ask that we all finally come together, move forward, accept the amendments from the upper House and acknowledge that abortion will now be decriminalised in New South Wales.