Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 – the beginning of the Upper House Debate

This weeks’ blog will review the speeches given by Members of the Legislative Council (upper house) for and against the bill, prior to the consideration of amendments.  It gives unique insight into the thinking and motivations behind many of the parliamentarians who voted for and against this bill.

The upper house debate began with Hon Penny Sharpe (ALP) claiming that it was “with great pride” that she presented this “bill that has been decades in the making”.  She deliberately referred to “women and other pregnant people” who would benefit from this legislation.  Ms Sharpe advocated abortion as a solution to unplanned pregnancy and stated that “women cannot be equal in our society until they have control over their own reproductive health and the ability to choose when and if they will have children”.  She urged support for the bill.

Ms Abigail Boyd (Greens) applauded the bill, describing it as “core business for The Greens for many decades” and noting that abortion had been included in the Greens’ first election platform 35 years ago.  In explaining her reasons for supporting the bill, she advocated for a “person’s right to choose to make the decision on whether or not to end a pregnancy on the basis of their personal circumstances, including their own values and beliefs”. Ms Boyd claimed that the inquiry gave undue weight to—and a platform for—the arguments of those who would further shame and stigmatise those people who have undergone or are undergoing difficult reproductive health decisions.

Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE (Christian Democratic Party) spoke in strong opposition, describing it as a “killing bill” that has “nothing at all to do with reproduction… or reform… it is an act of vandalism”.  He spoke on the importance of protecting the life of the unborn, just as he did in his inaugural speech in Parliament.

The Hon Damien Tudehope (Minister for Finance, Liberal Party) opposed the bill, describing abortion as “a matter of life and death” and the bill as a “cavalcade of horrors”, “a “catastrophe”, espousing a “eugenics agenda” and a “sham” in the most expressive speech on the bill in this parliament. 

Abortion is a matter of life and death—the life and death of an innocent child. That is not a matter of ideology, faith or religion. It is a matter of simple biological fact…. Fundamentally this bill is about rights but it is not about advancing rights; it is about removing rights—from children, from women and from doctors. 

Hon Damien Tudehope

The Hon Niall Blair (Nationals) provided support for the bill, proudly declaring “[t]his is what I believe” and  implying that our pro-life viewpoint was “ignorant”.

I believe that we live in an imperfect world that is not black and white but full of grey, particularly when it comes to issues like abortion. I believe we should have laws that reflect reality and are in line with broad community expectations and attitudes in 2019. 

Hon Niall Blair, Nationals

The Hon Mark Latham (One Nation) questioned both the substance within and the process surrounding the bill in his speech opposing it.  He described the process as lacking in credibility and legitimacy.

The idea that in 2019—in an era of political openness and social media—a cross-party cabal of left-wing MPs has been meeting in secret for months in this building, seeking to hijack the Parliament and ram through a law on one of the most divisive and sensitive issues in the State’s history is simply appalling….

I am worried that what they have been doing here in the Berejiklian-Greenwich government is an expression of minority interests using backdoor means to try to dominate the majority.

…. It was put to me earlier today that even the chooks get six months of committee time in this place, but not the abortion bill. 

Hon Mark Latham, One Nation

The Hon John Graham (ALP) spoke in support of the bill, citing reasons such as diminishing barriers and stigma, equality of access, dignity of women and even human frailty.

The Hon Lou Amato (Liberal) spoke in opposition, affirming the role of parliamentarians as being a  moral compass for community.  He described gestational development in detail and referred to the classic documentary he Silent Scream” made in 1984 which exposed the reality of abortion.  Amato lamented that abortion fails women and has a devastating effect on both the surviving mother and their dead child.

The Hon Robert Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, SFFP) spoke in opposition to the bill, posing the question: “What is the point we are trying to prove here – than an unborn child has absolutely no right to life?”.

This bill from an apparently conservative government is a play from the far Left of the field.  The truth about this bill is that this Government, in order to shore up support … agreed to a number of compromises with some Independent members and minor parties of the most extreme Left persuasion.  The Government hopes its constituents would not notice that it had taken a hard Left turn on this critical issue, but its constituents did and as usual this Government has grossly underestimated the possible implications of that and what it would mean”.

Hon Robert Borsak, SFFP

Borsak then moved for a Joint Select Committee to inquire into the bill at length however later in the debate this motion failed.

The Hon Daniel Mookhey (ALP) made abrief contribution in support stating that medical practice should be regulated by legislation and not be considered under the Crimes Act.

The Hon Mick Veitch (ALP) used a so-called “rural and regional perspective” relating to increasing access in these areas, as his reason to support the bill.

The Hon Walt Secord (ALP) was very clear on his support, stating: “[m]y views on terminations have always been on the public record.  I support a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body and personal choice.”

The Hon Bronnie Taylor (Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women, Nationals) spoke of her support as being informed by her career as a nurse and through personal experience.  She spoke about abortion as healthcare and on barriers to abortion in regional areas.

Abortion is a healthcare issue….  Another person’s believe that abortion is morally wrong is an opinion only; it should not impede on the freedom of women to make their choice and it should not impact the substance of this bill

Hon Bronnie Taylor, Nationals

The Hon Mark Banasiak (SFFP) described the process of the bill as hypocritical and the amendments passed to date as resulting in a “patchwork quilt piece of legislation”.  In voicing his opposition to the bill, he reminded the chamber that this is a “House of review” and as such advocated for a proper review process which could only be found in a full inquiry process.

The Hon Trevor Khan (Nationals) unsurprisingly gave clear support for the bill, admitting to being proud to be part of the working group “that began preparing this bill many months ago”.  Hedescribed it as a “modest, conservative and well-constructed bill”.

Former social worker, the Hon Peter Primrose (ALP) spoke in support of the bill because of his belief that terminations are “less safe” because of Crimes Act.  He quoted directly from the submission by the Uniting Church which affirmed abortion as a health and social issue.

The Hon Scott Farlow (Liberal) bravely shared his personal experience which shaped his opposition to the bill:

Four years, three months and 16 days ago, I stood in this very place and delivered my inaugural speech. In the President’s gallery sat my wife, my son and my daughter. Nobody saw my daughter at the time. I did not even dare mention her in my speech. But on that day my wife was five weeks pregnant and she was not sitting there alone. After two unsuccessful pregnancies, one ectopic and one ending in miscarriage, my wife and I have experienced the fragility of life and its formation, the tragedy and the heartache that it brings. We had just that morning had a scan and seen Colette’s perfect heartbeat and were filled with optimism that we would add to our family. As appalling as some may find it, a heart beats at four weeks. 

Hon Scott Farlow, Liberal

Farlow then went on to articulate in detail problems with late term abortion, conscientious objection and other problems with the bill.

The Hon Taylor Martin (Liberal), in opposing the bill, questioned why “abortion is the only medical procedure that requires its own Act of Parliament” answering that the “reason is … it is the only medical procedure that seeks not to save or improve a life, but to end a life”.

The Hon Shaoquett Moselane (ALP) spoke strongly in opposition to the bill:

Abortion is horrific.  One should never accept the scenario where all you need to do is to tap your credit card to abort a child -tap and go.  In all conscience, I cannot agree with this concept of privatisation of life and death.  Life is not a commodity, or a consumer product one can dispose of at will.

Hon Shaoquett Moselane, ALP

The Hon Wes Fang (Nationals) spent most of his contribution attacking the SFFP and their leader Robert Borsak, before stating that the bill met modern community expectations and therefore had his support.

The Hon Sarah Mitchell (Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning) (Nationals) stated her support for the bill, based on the premise that “women should not be made to feel guilty for their personal decisions based on an outdated law”.

The Hon Rod Roberts (One Nation) started his contribution by stating “I am pro-choice”.  He then went on to make the same arguments heard throughout the debate around autonomy, stigmatisation, and the AMA’s support.  He did however admit that there was inadequate consultation and that the bill should be amended in response to community concerns.  He emphasised the “community outrage” over the bill and the rushed inquiry process.  Roberts called for greater certainty and stated firmly at the end that he opposed the bill in its current form.

The Hon Emma Hurst (Animal Justice Party), as a co-sponsor, spoke in support of the bill.  She advocated strongly for the rights of women, ignoring the rights of the unborn child completely.

The Hon Tara Moriarty (ALP) advocated for safe and equal access to abortion in her speech in support of the bill.  She complained about the “scaremongering and misinformation being spread in the community” by those of us against abortion, although she did not expand on what exactly this was.

As Chair of the Committee who investigated this bill briefly, it is no surprise that the Hon Shane Mallard (Liberal) supported the bill.  He claimed this support came from “an innate sense from my earliest political and social awakenings that women should be equal and that women are in the best position to make decisions about their own lives”.   He referred to the committee inquiry and favoured the testimony given by the Uniting Church.  He described the world as “imperfect” where there “are no absolutes”.

The next contributor, the Hon Anthony D’Adam (ALP) paid tribute to the struggles of women over many decades to achieve this full abortion rights – full freedom rights in his estimataion.  He described himself as “persuaded that the current arrangements impede access to equitable care and support for women seeking to have an abortion, particularly in rural areas” and supported the bill without amendment.

The Hon Catherine Cusack (Liberal) appeared to genuinely be struggling with this bill.  At one point she rightly pointed out the contradiction inherent in the arguments for the bill: 

We have been told repeatedly that the fetus is not life, it is just a bunch of disposable cells.  At the same time we are being told that women who make the decision to have an abortion do not take that step lightly; this it is traumatic and life-changing for them.  But if someone genuinely believes that the child inside is just a clump of cells and not alive, why are they finding this decision so traumatic? 

Hon Catherine Cusack

Cusack disclosed that as an adoptee she affirmed that choice and noted the dramatic decrease in available adoptions over the past decades after the Levine ruling which legalised abortion as necessary in NSW.  She stated that she was, at this stage, opposing the bill.

Ms Cate Faehrmann (Greens), in supporting the bill,described herself as a proud feminist who had been campaigning since University days for abortion rights.  She proudly spoke about her own abortion as a 21-year-old University student, stating that she was not ashamed, or traumatised by the experience.  She accused the “anti-choice” emails received as “almost always [being] from men” and referred to “misinformation and scare tactics”.  Ms Faehrmann referred to the protest at Martin Place the night before, making scathing reference to our ‘stand for life’ and described our tactics as bullying.

The Hon Natasha Maclaren-Jones (Liberal) spoke in opposition to the bill, describing her work as a theatre nurse witnessing the death of babies at 10 weeks old and at 29 week old babies. She tangibly witnessed the humanity at both gestational ages. Mrs Maclaren-Jones disclosed that she personally has suffered multiple miscarriages, identifying with the loss suffered by so many women. She described support for the bill – especially for the late term sections – as a simplistic view of a complex issue.

The Hon Matthew Mason-Cox (Liberal) spoke out strongly in opposition to the bill which contradicted his faith and came out of a flawed consultation process:

I share Winston Churchill’s view that truth is incontrovertible.  Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is… [the] tension between the competing right of the woman to choose and the right to life of the baby in utero recognises the incontrovertible truth that life begins at conception.  This is not only my personal belief but also a self-evident biological fact.

Hon Matthew Mason-Cox

The Hon Rose Jackson (ALP) supported the bill, lamenting the speeches and the theatrics of politics, stating “[e]verything has already been said; I think we should just get on with it”.  She then went on to speak at length on women’s rights.

The Hon Mark Pearson (Animal Justice Party) stated that his party stood for “kindness, empathy, rationality and non-violence” then supported the bill by stating that he believed it “delivers on all these values for the women of New South Wales and their treating doctors”.

The Hon Courtney Houssos (ALP) spoke in opposition to the bill, describing the joy at hearing her babies’ hearts beating at 7 weeks.  She described the bill as flawed and described the process as emasculating.  She affirmed that she is a woman of faith, along with 66% of the NSW population who identify as having a religious affiliation.

I have been amazed at the level of disbelief and anger from the community about this bill.  Last night I stood with my family in Martin Place with thousands of others.  I have been to a lot of rallies in my time but this crowd was different.  I could not help but notice that they looked like us – plenty of young people, lots of families and more kids than I could count.  I believe that many of those families, many of those people, do not usually attend rallies.  But this legislation – particularly the failure to appropriately restrict late-term abortions… and the way it have been rushed without careful deliberation – has caused them to act.

Hon Courtney Houssos

The Hon Mark Buttigieg (ALP) supported a woman’s right to choose” and stated that “as a man and as a legislator I am not qualified to make a judgement on such matters” and accused the opposition to the bill as “morality or religion impinging on the operations of the State”.

Mr Justin Field (Greens) supported the bill without amendment, accusing opponents of the bill as “primarily… motivated by religious conviction”. 

The Hon Natalie Ward (Liberal) said she felt burdened to speak in support of the bill.  She spoke in support as a woman, a Liberal party member, a lawyer and as a Christian – although she did detail how being a Christian aligned with being pro-abortion.

Mr David Shoebridge (Greens) spoke of his ”unambiguous support” of the bill quoting Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, when she said “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother”.

The Hon Adam Searle (ALP) thanked the working group who crafted this bill, showing his clear support for the bill.  He described himself as pro-choice.

The Hon Ben Franklin (Nationals) spoke briefly to make a clear statement in support of the bill.

The Hon Greg Donnelly (ALP) spoke passionately in opposition to the bill.  He articulated in detail the problems related to the inquiry process and spoke in defence of those so often forgotten in discussions around abortion – the unborn:

The truth of the matter is the indisputable fact that the deliberate termination of a pregnancy can never be healthy for the unborn.  Deliberate pregnancy termination extinguishes the life of the unborn.  Abortion by whatever means kills the unborn.  That is the intention and that is the outcome.

Hon Greg Donnelly

The Hon Don Harwin (Special Minister of State, Liberal) spoke in support of the bill, putting the views of the woman above the reality for her unborn child:

I grew up in a faith community which strongly upholds the sanctity of life and I have profound misgivings about abortion.  My own views were for many years influenced by this. However, my personal journey has moved me beyond this.  I believe that life begins at the point of conception and that at some point after that an individual life achieves an agency independent of the woman who carries it to term in utero…

Hon Don Harwin

At the conclusion of this debate – which represented two full days of debating time in the upper house, the motion moved by the SFFP’s Robert Borsak (to move the bill to a joint committee for consideration) was moved and swiftly defeated – Ayes 14, Noes 27.

A motion moved by Liberal Matthew Mason-Cox to dispose of the bill in this session was moved and also swiftly defeate3d – Ayes 15, Noes 26.

Then the bill was “read a second time” and passed – Ayes 26, Noes 15 – which allowed amendments to the bill to be debated on the following sitting day.

Considering that just 18 months prior, the NSW upper house defeated the Mehreen Faruqui bill to decriminalise abortion with a vote of Ayes 14, Noes 25 – this was an extremely disappointing outcome for the pro-life movement and for the Unborn in NSW.