NSW Parliament Rejects Changes to Outlaw Gender-Selective Abortions

September 19, 2019 Updated: September 19, 2019

The NSW upper house has rejected an amendment to the progressive abortion bill that wanted to ban gender-selective abortions.

After a heated debate that went long into Wednesday evening, the upper house voted 15 in favour of the amendment to 26 against.

The amendment, moved by Finance Minister Damien Tudehope, sought to ban terminations in which medical practitioners know, or ought reasonably to know, it’s being performed for gender selection.

Attached was a maximum six-month prison sentence for the offence.

Labor MLC and bill co-sponsor Penny Sharpe, who opposed the amendment, said there was a worldwide problem regarding gender-selective abortions but no evidence it was taking place in NSW.

“The appropriate way forward is what’s already there,” Sharpe said.

“We cannot reconcile the differences here. There are fundamental views in relation to this—that’s why we have this legislation before the parliament, and the debate, and more time on this bill than any other.

“I am pleased members of this house have realised this is an important matter but understand there are some of us who have been looking at this for a very long time, looked at the evidence, read the reports.”

Sharpe cited a 2011 United Nations World Health Organisation report which concluded that society-wide gender equity campaigns were the most effective tool to combat gender-selective abortion, and that adding bans “really don’t work.”

She said she was wary of any amendments that sought to place parliament between a woman seeking a termination and her doctor.

“The reality is that if we make it more difficult for people to get terminations, we don’t stop terminations, we make them more unsafe,” Sharpe said.

Tudehope took a different view.

“If, in fact, abortions are—or could be—happening because of sex selection [then] why don’t we outlaw it?” he asked the Upper House.

“If in fact gender sex selection is directed principally at girls, the greatest advocacy we can do in relation to anti-discrimination law is ban their killing.

“It is hard to accept that we would not want the gold standard of legislation relating to termination of pregnancy,” he said, adding that there were concerns about gender-selective abortions by some individuals in Indian and Chinese communities.

The upper house earlier passed an amendment that states doctors must provide appropriate care to babies born alive after a failed abortion.

Nationals MP Niall Blair, who introduced the amendment, said the amendment was something that had to be done to address community concerns, despite it being unquestionable that health practitioners were required to treat any newborn unless it was futile. Even so, palliative care is to be given.

“Many in society think that whatever is being said in this area is actually true, that there would be doctors who would allow a child that had been born just to lay there and suffer,” Blair said.

While MPs on Wednesday agreed to Blair’s amendment, they rejected one from Christian Democrat Fred Nile that also addressed care for a child born alive after a failed abortion.

In its current form, the bill would allow terminations up to 22 weeks as well as up to birth if two specialist doctors agree.

The upper house, since it resumed debate on Tuesday, previously voted down an amendment seeking to move the trigger for further medical oversight on abortions from 22 weeks’ or 5 and a half months gestation to 20 weeks or 5 months.

Other rejected changes include one seeking to have the bill refer to a pregnant “woman” rather than “person” and another that would delay the bill going into effect until it was proclaimed.

But the upper house agreed to an amendment moved by Liberal MP Taylor Martin to change the name of the laws from the Reproductive Health Care Reform Act 2019 to the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019.

The chamber also agreed to another amendment by Blair seeking to clarify doctors’ obligations to get informed consent in circumstances where a woman lacks capacity to give it.

Debate on amendments to the bill will continue into the night on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

By Jodie Stephens and Angelo Risso