Archbishop: NSW abortion legalization ‘a defeat for humanity’

Fisher Briefing in Holy See Press about Synod Daniel Ibanez 2 Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney at a Vatican press conference Oct. 5. | Daniel Ibanez / CNA.

The archbishop of Sydney lamented a controversial new law decriminalizing abortion in New South Wales, and stressed that the Church will work to offer support for women facing difficult pregnancies.

"Today is a very dark day for New South Wales," said Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney in a Sept. 26 statement. He called the new law "a defeat for humanity."

"The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 may be the worst law passed in New South Wales in modern times, because it represents such a dramatic abdication of responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of our community," he said.

"Since the abolition of capital punishment in New South Wales in 1955, this is the only deliberate killing ever legalised in our state."

A law removing abortion from the Crimes Act in New South Wales passed by a vote of 26-14 in the state's upper house on Wednesday.

The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 allows abortion for any reason up to 22 weeks of pregnancy; after that, it allows for abortions if two obstetricians agree.

Previously, abortion was only legal in NSW if a doctor determined that a woman's physical or mental health is in danger. "Mental health" had been interpreted by courts to include "economic and social stress."

According to supporters of the bill, it clarifies what they believe were previously ambiguous terms in penal code with regard to abortion. But according to conservatives who oppose the bill, it opens up the possibility for abortion at any time for any reason as long as two doctors agree.

Fisher emphasized that although abortion is now legal in New South Wales, "our commitment to life continues."

"Care for pregnant women, new mothers and their babies will still be available through Church agencies and pro-life organisations," he said.

"The Catholic Church, other Christian churches, people of other faiths and women and men of goodwill will continue to work together to turn our culture around, so that every vulnerable woman and baby is supported and abortion becomes unthinkable."

The legislation had drawn opposition from the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the NSW Presbyterian Church.

Debate on the bill in the state's Legislative Council had been delayed over the summer, following concerns that it was rushed through without proper consideration. The bill had previously passed the Legislative Assembly Aug. 8 by a vote of 59-31.

Under the legislation, it will still be a criminal offense for individuals to perform abortions without the proper authorizations, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for doing so. Doctors would also have to obtain "informed consent" from patients before performing abortions.

Originally titled The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, the bill underwent several changes before reaching its final form.

Initially, it did not mandate any counseling or period of consideration for the woman, according to The Catholic Weekly, the Archdiocese of Sydney's publication.

That was later changed to require medical practitioners to offer counseling to a woman seeking an abortion if they believe it would be beneficial, The Guardian reported.

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Critics of the bill had also objected that it would require doctors with conscientious objections to refer women to other abortion providers. The final legislation instead requires them to direct women to the NSW Health website or hotline, which can then connect them with a doctor who will perform the abortion.

Another amendment prohibits coercing a woman into having an abortion, or preventing her from doing so. The crime is punishable by up to two years in jail, Australia's ABC News reported.

In addition, it clarifies the obligation of doctors to care for a baby who survives an abortion attempt, and prohibits abortions based solely on the sex of the child, according to ABC News.

In his statement, Fisher thanked the members of Parliament who opposed the bill, and those "who worked tirelessly on amendments to make this bad law a little better." He also thanked the members of the public who prayed and spoke out against the law.

He encouraged Catholics to pray and work for pro-life leaders, and to renew their commitment to helping pregnant women in need.

"We can still put an end to the scourge of abortion in this state by making it unnecessary, no matter what the law says," the archbishop said.

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