Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019

As one of the Bills official co-sponsors, Abigail rose to speak in strong support of reproductive healthcare reform, the rights of women and those with uteresuses and of the need to trust individuals to make decisions about what to do with their own bodies.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (15:53): I speak on behalf of The Greens to support the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019. Along with Jenny Leong, my colleague in the lower House, I am a co-sponsor of the bill on behalf of The Greens but I am proud to say that every single one of our Greens MPs supports the bill. As with the issue of marriage equality The Greens do not have a conscience vote on this issue. Our policy position in favour of abortion decriminalisation is clear. Our conscience has nothing to do with the decisions made by others on the basis of theirs. Just as it is not for legislators to dictate who a person can love, it is not for legislators to dictate when someone must have a child.

The campaign to decriminalise abortion has been core business for The Greens for many decades. Our first election platform 35 years ago included women's rights to reproductive freedom as a core principle. As recently as this year's State election campaign we again promised to pursue the decriminalisation of abortion. Three years ago my Greens colleague Dr Mehreen Faruqi—at the time a member of this place and now a Federal senator—introduced the Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016 and instigated the first ever debate on abortion in the New South Wales Parliament. The introduction of that bill was part of a five‑year-long campaign by The Greens NSW women's working group and Mehreen's office to remove abortion from the Crimes Act.

The work of Mehreen and Greens activists under the End12 banner put abortion law reform on the agenda in the New South Wales Parliament for the very first time. But of course that campaign did not come out of nowhere. It was part of a much broader and longer-running campaign. We stand on the shoulders of an uncountable number of activists, campaigners and feminists who have fought tirelessly for reproductive rights since abortion was criminalised in New South Wales more than 100 years ago. Without activist organisations like the women's liberation movement, the Union of Australian Women and the Abortion Law Reform Association fighting for the right to fertility control, bodily autonomy and access to abortion we would not be where we are today.

We are here because of the tireless work of advocacy and lobby groups working to remove abortion from the Crimes Act—organisations such as the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance, the NSW Women's Alliance and the more than 70 health, law and community sector organisations supporting these crucial alliances who have bridged the gap between Parliament and the views of the people of New South Wales, who overwhelmingly support the decriminalisation of abortion. We are here because of the ongoing work of the Women's March movement, various women's collectives in universities across the State and motivated individuals like 17-year-old school student Bella Ziade, who in June this year organised the massive Our Body Our Choice march.

To everyone who has got us to this point and everyone in this Parliament who has supported or will soon support the bill, thank you. I feel incredibly privileged to be one in a very long list of women who have played a part in this vital reform and to share this historic moment with all the pro-choice activists present while honouring those who paved our way. The decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales will be the legacy of feminist activists young and old, whose protests, rallies, marches and direct actions prove that the real change happens in the streets. Progress can be excruciatingly slow at times but when change finally comes we can reflect on how every letter written, every conversation had, every story told, every rally held, every single contribution to a movement matters. We live in a democracy, one in which your voice matters so long as you choose to use it. Significant change like this does not happen through parliamentarians. Real and meaningful change happens outside of this place and it is our job as legislators to reflect that change in legislation.

Last week I took part in the 2½-day committee inquiry into the bill. The Greens did not support the need for an inquiry and the inquiry did little other than reinforce what we already knew—namely that the decriminalisation of abortion is supported by legal and medical professionals, by those working on the front line of the domestic and family violence epidemic and by those working in community health centres; and that decriminalisation is opposed primarily on religious grounds. We did not hear any evidence to throw doubt on the credibility of the professional organisations and experts supporting the bill and the reasons for their support. They supported Mehreen Faruqi's bill in 2016, they supported this bill when it went to the lower House and they support it now in the amended form in which it has come to the upper House, because every version of this bill to decriminalise abortion takes us a step closer to safe and legal access to abortion across New South Wales regardless of your postcode or your bank balance.

We also did not hear any evidence in the inquiry to suggest that those opposing the bill on religious grounds were doing so for reasons other than their firm and genuinely held beliefs. Consistent with those beliefs, most not only opposed the bill but also opposed the current legal status quo. In other words they wanted an entirely different type of law reform, one taking us towards even stricter control over the body of anyone with a uterus. Accordingly, their suggested amendments to the bill were aimed at creating further obstacles to those seeking an abortion rather than clarifying or improving the effectiveness of the bill.

Although not holding those religious beliefs myself, I have a deep respect for freedom of religious belief. Australia is a secular society—despite those who would prefer it to be otherwise—and we do not enshrine one religious belief in our laws to the exclusion of other points of view, including those with no religion. It should be each person's right to choose to make the decision on whether or not to end a pregnancy on the basis of their personal circumstances, including their own values and beliefs. I would not be party to legislation that forced someone to terminate their pregnancy and I stand against any legislation seeking to force someone to remain pregnant. It is my choice whether I decide to use my uterus to bring life into this world and no-one else's.

 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:21): The inquiry gave undue weight to—and a platform for—the arguments of those who would further shame and stigmatise those people who have undergone or are undergoing difficult reproductive health decisions. Some witnesses and committee members argued for the legislative process to be even further delayed, not content with the harm caused already by this antiquated law over the past 119 years. The campaign run by the sensationalist segment of our press, peddling fear and misinformation and completely out of touch with the majority of public opinion, now also threatens to delay the bill.

Although the inquiry heard from a number of religious leaders who were supportive of a woman's right to choose, the inquiry heard from a large number of men representing a range of faiths in which women are still prevented from being leaders. These same religious institutions that deny women decision-making leadership positions purely by virtue of them being women perhaps unsurprisingly also hold the view that women should not be decision-makers in relation to their own bodies. These witnesses appeared before the inquiry in their capacity as religious leaders—that is, to present their religious views. We are entitled in that forum to investigate these views that entrench sexism within our society or which seek to deny women their bodily autonomy. This morning outside Parliament 17-year-old Bella Ziade addressed the pro-choice rally. She stated:

Abortion is a personal choice, not a political debate. Politicians have no place in your doctor's office. But it seems that we now have to convince men that we deserve rights. We now have to prove the reasons for our rights. As if healthcare is not a fundamental human right. As if it is a privilege.

Abortion access saves lives. The beauty of the pro-choice movement is that you do not have to morally agree with abortion to consider yourself as pro-choice. That's why it's not called pro-abortion. It's an understanding that you can't make the choice for someone else and acknowledging that they have full control over that and not you. It is the political and ethical view that a pregnant person should have complete control over their fertility and the choice to continue or terminate a pregnancy.

She stated:

It is pro-"I’m not imposing my beliefs onto you", pro-"I have no right to tell you what's best for your situation", pro-"I am here to support and respect your decision". Personal objection to abortions does not grant the right to deny bodily autonomy to others.

Whether you know it or not, there is someone your life who has had an abortion. Up to one in three women in Australia have had an abortion. However, the criminalising of pregnancy termination in this State has ensured that accessing this safe and common medical procedure is deeply stigmatised. To all those who have shared their stories throughout this process, who have passionately advocated for the fundamental right of every person with a uterus to make their own decisions, you have my enormous respect and gratitude.

Decriminalising abortion is an enormous step towards the complete liberation of women, non-binary people and transgender men. The right to make one's own healthcare choices without the shadow of criminality is necessary and long overdue. Gender equality cannot be achieved when people born with uteruses are not able to choose their own futures. Coercive parenthood has devastating and often long-term physical, psychological and financial impacts. The inability to safely and legally access abortion on demand may mean for a pregnant person being unable to engage in the level of employment needed to pay rent, exacerbation of existing mental health conditions, being ostracised from family or community or being unable to leave an unsafe relationship. What it always means is that we do not have control of our own bodies or choices. No‑one—whether a partner, parent, or politician—can be allowed to control a pregnant person's access to the health care they want and need.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 will decriminalise abortion up to 22 weeks' gestation and retain the existing legal understanding under which abortions are currently obtained for terminations after 22 weeks. This is the compromise position and is certainly not the outcome pro-choice activists had been hoping for. Late term abortions can become a necessity in a variety of circumstances including when fetal abnormalities are detected late in the pregnancy, when the pregnant person is experiencing domestic violence, when availability of accessible abortion services prevents earlier termination or when someone does not discover their pregnancy until late into their second or third trimester. A small percentage of abortions currently performed in Australia are done so after 22 weeks. This would not change were New South Wales to completely decriminalise abortion. Suggestions to the contrary are offensive and unrealistic. Sinead Canning, campaign manager of NSW Pro‑Choice Alliance, contributed eloquently to the inquiry on the bill on this point. She stated:

There are women and families in New South Wales that have had terminations of pregnancy at a later gestation. These are not easy decisions. Their decisions were considered, their decisions were thoughtful, their decisions were compassionate and their decisions were made in consultation with their doctors, who found these procedures medically appropriate. There is going to be no difference if the bill is successful. Those who would condemn people for making such a decision are purposefully ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the choice to continue with a pregnancy at a later gestation. Women are not making these decisions on the fly. They are not making them flippantly and to suggest so is highly insulting to women everywhere.

Notably, the bill requires the sign-off of two doctors for terminations for pregnancies past 22 weeks. This creates an enormous disparity for pregnant people in rural or regional areas who are much more likely to not have access to multiple doctors, let alone multiple doctors who do not have a conscientious objection to abortion. Disparity of access extends to the extraordinarily high financial cost of terminating a pregnancy. As decades-long reproductive rights activist and Greens member Anne Picot said at a rally 40 years ago and again following a pro-choice rally outside Parliament earlier this month, "Abortion is a class issue. No amount of law has stopped rich women from getting an abortion when they need one."

While pregnant people can currently access an abortion, which would normally be considered illegal, if it would prevent serious danger to their physical or mental health, the consequence of this legal loophole is that most surgical abortions are performed outside the public health system and incur enormous costs to counter the risk of operating in a grey area of the law. The decriminalisation of abortion that the bill would deliver will pave the way for the proper incorporation of abortion into our public healthcare system, removing the high incidence of private provision, expanding geographic access and bringing us a step closer to genuinely universal health care. The bill will be far from the end of the journey towards delivering free, safe and legal reproductive health care. Along with so many inspiring activists and advocates The Greens will continue to campaign for the abortion access that the people of New South Wales deserve. This includes the delivery of completely free and publicly provided abortion on demand, the removal of upper time limits on access and the adequate accessibility of the RU486 abortion drug. 

We must also remember that New South Wales will not be the last State to decriminalise abortion. South Australia is also in the midst of a campaign for the right to choose. In acknowledging the tireless work of the reproductive rights campaign in New South Wales I also acknowledge my friends, comrades and colleagues in South Australia whose work continues. It is time for New South Wales to walk confidently into a future where exercising the right to determine one's own health outcomes is not accompanied by the threat of criminal conviction. Let's get it done.

 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:26): The Greens opposed every amendment to the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, both here in the upper House as well as in the lower House. We opposed them not because they were put forward by a particular side of the debate, but because every amendment took us further away from our firm pro-choice stance and towards a regulatory regime that makes it just that much harder for people to access reproductive health care than it would be without the amendments. They create a regime that makes it that much harder for doctors to provide that health care. If we are honest, the people proposing those amendments are on record as opposing the core features of the bill—as it is their right to do. It is absolutely within their rights as members of this place to propose amendments that make access to terminations more difficult. And it is absolutely within our rights to oppose those amendments on the basis of our firm and unwavering commitment to the right to choose.

The bill we will deliver back to the lower House tonight is undoubtedly worse than the one that was sent up to us many days ago. It has more ambiguities, more legal nonsense and more statements perpetuating myths and harmful misunderstandings around the reasons that people seek terminations—particularly late-term terminations. However, the bill does still decriminalise abortion. It does still advance the fundamental human rights of those of us with a uterus. The debate has been controversial at times and really distressing for many. I am deeply sorry to all those who have suffered harm as a result of this debate and from the public focus and scrutiny on the incredibly difficult decisions that so many people have to make every single day.

Finally, I thank the fierce pro-choice individuals who have stood by us through this debate. The Hon. Penny Sharpe has mentioned many of them. I add my special thanks to a few of them, notably, Wendy McCarthy; Adjunct Professor Ann Brassil—I got great comfort to see her in the public gallery—Dr Vijay Roach, who was also a great source of strength; the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance; Our Bodies Our Choices; and so many others. I thank our pro‑choice colleagues from the lower House—not least of all, Jenny Leong—and all of those who have sent us messages of support and encouragement. They have given us the strength to get through this debate. We do not want to see the bill back in this House. I look forward to seeing it receive its final vote in the lower House tomorrow—and to us making history.


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