On October 2, 2019, NSW Parliament finally passed a bill decriminalising abortion in this state, bringing NSW legislation in line with other states in Australia. The bill cleared the final legislative hurdle on the morning of October 3, 2019, after prolonged debate in both houses of parliament, when the governor signed the bill into law.

This bill effectively overturned a law that had been in place in NSW for 119 years. According to Labor MP Penny Sharpe and other advocates who have fought for this new legislation, the assent to the bill by the governor is a “massive step forward for women in NSW”.

What Does the New Law Mean?

Known as the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019, it allows for legal terminations up to 22 weeks’ gestation. Later abortions are also allowed, providing two doctors independently consider all the circumstances associated with the pregnancy and agree that termination is necessary on medical grounds.

The new legislation also eliminates a statute (that dates back one hundred years) from the state’s criminal code that treats abortion as a criminal offence. According to this outdated statute, performing or accessing an abortion could carry penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

A Long Process

The final vote on the bill came following the bill being passed by the Upper House 26 votes to 14 on the evening of October 2, after almost 40 hours of discussion and debate. This represents the third-longest debate in the history of the state’s House of Review.

During the process, Members of both major parties were granted a conscience vote on the bill. It finally passed the Lower House with no division.

According to Labor MP Jo Haylen, who was a co-sponsor of the private Member’s bill, this was “a historic day” for women across NSW, enabling women to make their own choices and to have access to a healthcare procedure. Women in NSW will no longer be criminalised for making a choice for their own bodies, minds, and lives.

Bill Amendments

Prior to passing Parliament, several amendments were made to the bill. These included a ban on abortions for the purpose of sex selection. It is also a requirement for the NSW Health Department to conduct a review to determine whether or not terminations for gender selection are being performed.

The ban on sex selection was, however, opposed by professional doctor groups. Vice-President of the NSW branch of the AMA, Dr Danielle McMullen, warned that doctors could find themselves in the position of being unwitting parties to a crime. This could occur if abortion was sought by a patient on the basis of gender selection but the doctor not appraised of this motivation. With the ban on abortion on sex-selection, doctors would potentially be required to view every abortion sought after nine weeks gestation as potentially suspect. This could result in doctors potentially being a party to a crime. According to Dr McMullen, this would lead to delays in the delivery of care, and even result in access to the abortion being blocked.

Another amendment that was successfully implemented to the bill states that, in the case of doctors having a conscientious objection to abortion, they would not have to refer patients on to other doctors without similar objections. They could instead direct them to NSW Health for additional information.

Other bill amendments include:

  • Patients must explicitly give informed consent before receiving an abortion.
  • Doctors must consider offering to counsel patients prior to performing an abortion.
  • Recognition that doctors who perform late-term abortions can seek advice from a multidisciplinary team or hospital advisory committee prior to doing so.

Gynaecology Centres Australia

Gynaecology Centres Australia (GCA) is a professional clinic that provides a wide range of women’s health services. These include five abortion services in NSW. For more information on our women’s health services, including abortion, screening, contraception, and vasectomy for men, or to locate your nearest clinic, contact us today.