Opponents of a bill to decriminalise abortion gathered in their thousands near the NSW parliament for a rally so loud it could be heard from inside the chamber where the draft laws were being debated.
Holding aloft crosses, pictures of Jesus and signs saying “stand for life,” thousands gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place late Tuesday, Aug. 20, to listen to MPs and religious leaders who oppose the bill.
Pro-choice activists had rallied on Macquarie Street earlier in the day.
Some had hoped the bill would go to an upper house vote within days but Deputy Premier John Barilaro on Aug. 20 confirmed that wouldn’t happen amid reports that Premier Gladys Berejiklian had buckled to pressure from conservatives.
It means the upper house debate, which began Aug. 20, is likely to drag into September.
Barilaro said a number of proposed amendments had been foreshadowed and the debate would be lengthy.
“It’s just the reality that we will not have the time to deal with it in this particular sitting period,” Barilaro told reporters on Aug. 20.
Don Harwin, the leader of the government in the Legislative Council, said coalition MPs supported getting more time to consider potential amendments and a committee report into the private member’s bill.
But shadow treasurer Walt Secord said women had waited 119 years for abortion to be removed from the criminal code “and now the premier is delaying it to save herself.”
“For the record, I’ll be voting yes to the bill, but make no mistake, this has been bungled by the government,” he said.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich—who introduced the draft laws—called on the upper house to pass the bill as soon as possible, saying the reform was long overdue.
A group of MPs including Christian Democrat Fred Nile, Shooters MP Robert Borsak, and Liberal members Tanya Davies and Matthew Mason-Cox earlier on Aug. 20 held a press conference to speak against the bill.
Davies called for it to be set aside so a fresh bill could be reintroduced after several months of consultation.
“I believe it is a crisis of government we are facing,” she said.
“My community is absolutely outraged they have been shut out and denied any opportunity to participate in this process.”
Davies told the crowd they had been given a “stay of execution.”
She asked them to “gather a tsunami of opposition to this bill” (and direct it) to Berejiklian, Barilaro, and upper house MPs.
The crowd chanting “abort this bill” and “love them both” were so loud they could be heard in the upper house chamber, where the bill was being debated.
Chantal Czeczotko, who is 26 weeks pregnant, took to the rally’s makeshift podium, a bench in the middle of Martin Place, where the heartbeat of her unborn child was broadcast over speakers for the crowd to hear.
“This baby’s heart is beating strongly for us tonight and if MPs have their way in the house behind us, a baby with this strong a heartbeat has no right to life,” said Right to Life NSW chief executive Dr Rachel Carling, eliciting boos from those gathered.
Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the draft legislation was the “abortion industry’s dream bill.”
He called for more people power and more “God power”—more prayer, fasting, and lobbying—to ensure those opposed to the bill had their voices heard.
Melkite Catholic Bishop Robert Rabbat said the rally had gathered in response to “the call to defend life.”
“Abortion is not simply a religious or philosophical issue, abortion is not an a la carte menu to choose from. It is a matter of rights and the pre-born do not have fewer rights than the powerful or the outspoken or the legislators,” Bishop Rabbat said.
Federal Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce was the last to speak, telling those gathered the clause requiring two doctors to sign off on an abortion after 22 weeks “is not a reflection of a civilised society.”
“I am not here to try and espouse a religion. I’m not here saying I’m some saint. I’m here because I’m trying to argue to those people on logic,” Joyce said.
Speaking after the rally, Joyce said people turned up to the rally because they are angry.
“If you keep on working on angry people, they vote for somebody else and the next thing you know, you’ve got another job,” he told AAP.
His message to the premier was to be “really focused on this.”
“You though the greyhound debate was bad—the greyhound debate was for the bush, this is one for the city.”
A petition calling for upper house members to vote against the bill, signed by more than 77,000 people, was handed to Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MLC Robert Borsak who will table it to parliament on Wednesday.
Maketalena Afeaki, 33, travelled from Liverpool with a contingent of the Tongan Catholic Youth who she said were at the rally to “give our voice for the unborn children.”
“We’re all here to just vote no against the abortion bill only because we strongly believe in our faith that abortion is murder,” Afeaki told AAP.