Effort to pass abortion bill in NSW could push government into minority

Pregnancy pregnant woman prolife Credit Tatiana Vdb via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 12 18 14 Tatiana Vdb via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

As the Australian state of New South Wales considers a bill to decriminalize abortion, two members of parliament from the governing coalition are threatening to separate from the majority government if certain limiting amendments to the bill do not pass.

Tanya Davies and Kevin Conolly told the state's premier, Gladys Berejiklian, that they will "no longer sit in the party room" if amendments to the bill are not passed, which would push the Liberal Party and National Party coalition into  minority government, The Guardian reports.

The government would go from 48 to 46 seats in the lower house, the Legislative Assembly; it is already in the minority in the Legislative Council.

The amendments the MPs are pushing for include the removal of provisions in the bill which require doctors who have a conscientious objection to performing abortions to refer patients elsewhere.

They are also pushing for an amendment to ban sex-selective abortions, which Davies first introduced in August. The amendment was voted down in the Legislative Assembly, with some legislators arguing it could lead to racial discrimination and profiling, and that sex-selective abortion "is not an issue in NSW", reported The Catholic Weekly, the Archdiocese of Sydney's publication.

Amendments to the bill will be considered beginning Sept. 17, after which a final vote will occur.

The bill passed the Legislative Assembly Aug. 8 by a 59-31 vote; votes on the bill have been delayed several times because of opposition and concerns it has been rushed through without proper consideration.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 would allow abortions for any reason up to 22 weeks of pregnancy; after that, it would allow for abortions if two doctors believe an abortion should be performed, considering physical, social, and psychological circumstances.

It would require medical practitioners to offer counseling to a woman seeking to procure an abortion, if they believe it would be beneficial.

According to supporters of the bill, it clarifies what they believe were previously ambiguous terms in penal code with regard to abortion.

But opponents believe it opens the possibility of elective abortion at any time, as long as two doctors consent.

Under current law, abortion is only legal in NSW if a doctor determines that a woman's physical or mental health is in danger. "Mental health" has been interpreted by courts to include "economic and social stress."

The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the NSW Presbyterian Church all oppose the bill.

When the bill passed the lower house, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney expressed his disappointment, stating that "if a civilisation is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members, New South Wales failed spectacularly today."

The bill "still allows abortion right up to birth. It conscripts all medical practitioners and institutions into the abortion industry by requiring them to perform abortions themselves or direct women to an abortion provider. It still does nothing to protect mothers or their unborn children or to give them real alternatives," he said.

Bishop Richard Umbers, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney and the Australian bishops' delegate for life, said that despite the bill's advancement, "the Catholic Church will continue to provide support, advise and care for all women facing any decision surrounding her pregnancy."

He thanked all who "rallied to oppose the culture of death," saying: "The graces given by God to the people of Sydney as a result of your fervent and tireless prayers and support for life will bring about great good for NSW in ways we will be blessed to witness and in many unknown ways."

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