After a 72-hour debate, delays and the threat of a leadership spill, New South Wales became the final state in Australia to decriminalise abortion last week. Arguably Australia’s most radical abortion law, the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 allows “terminations” for any reason up to 22 weeks and full-term abortion with the consent of two doctors.
Only 25 of the possible 102 amendments to the bill were accepted. Among those that failed were pain relief for babies of more than 20 weeks’ gestation, and the banning of sex-selective abortions and the selling of body parts. One accepted amendment was the bizarrely titled “Care of persons born after termination” which requires doctors to treat those babies that survive a late-term abortion.
“Today is a very dark day for New South Wales,” said Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney in a statement on September 26. “Since the abolition of capital punishment in New South Wales in 1955, this is the only deliberate killing ever legalised in our state.”
Dark as it is, for most of those in the pro-life arena it mostly codified an existing practice. Abortion, as former prime minister Tony Abbott reminded a 7,000 strong pro-life rally in August, has been in decriminalised in practice “for more than 40 years”.
The Bill has at least revealed the true face of the pro-choice movement. There is now no doubt that abortion is about the termination of human life. Perhaps it was for this reason that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, abandoning all protocols, attempted to rush a vote in the lower house on August 8 just three days after it was announced. Perhaps it was also for this reason that there was a manifest determination to reject every single proposed amendment.
What proponents failed to foresee was the pro-life pushback. On September 17, MPs Tanya Davies, Matthew Mason-Cox and Lou Amato caused a panic when they released a joint statement threatening a leadership spill because of the “unacceptable” rejection of amendments. As a result, the amendments were put back on the table.
The pushback was also felt on the ground. On September 15, 10,000 people – Australia’s largest ever pro-life rally – gathered in Hyde Park to protest. There were representatives from every group and in a rare display of unity, pro-lifers stood shoulder to shoulder, while Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Maronite, Anglican, Melkite, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox leaders united on the street in the fight for life.
“Never before have I seen harmonious collaboration between so many faith communities, particularly within such a short space of time and under intense pressure,” said Rebecca Gosper, director of pro-life group LifeChoice.
The Bill revealed a new pro-life energy in Australia, echoing and possibly taking its inspiration from similar currents in America.
For one whole minute, the crowd stopped as the live sound of a heartbeat from a baby 22 weeks in gestation was broadcast across the park. Perhaps it is a good symbol for where we stand politically in Australia: a pause and the search for the sound of a heartbeat.