Abortion bill debated in NSW parliament

Jodie Stephens and Heather McNab
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Anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates rally outside NSW Parliament as a debate on the issue begins

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has urged colleagues to back a bill decriminalising abortion in order to "right a wrong" enacted in law more than a century ago.

Mr Hazzard on Tuesday launched a NSW lower house debate on a private members bill allowing pregnancy terminations up to 22 weeks, while activists on both sides of the abortion debate rallied outside.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 would also permit later abortions if two doctors "consider that, in all the circumstances, the termination should be performed".

Mr Hazzard - one of 15 cross-party sponsors of the bill - said it was an important and overdue reform of a law enacted almost 120 years ago when all legislators were men.

He said it was disturbing that the framework for abortion was still found in the state's Crimes Act.

"I ask all honourable members whether it is acceptable, whether it's conscionable that in making this major life decision, women and their doctors have to do so with the threat of being charged with a criminal offence," he said.

Coalition and Labor MPs are being given a conscience vote on the bill, which has the support of Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Transport Minister Andrew Constance, opposition treasury spokesman Walt Secord and others.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Finance Minister Damien Tudehope, Police Minister David Elliott and Liberal MP Kevin Conolly are among those who oppose the draft legislation.

Mr Conolly told parliament it was introduced with "the minimum possible notice" and it was misleading to say it was about decriminalising abortion.

"There are a number of aspects to this bill which do not reflect the current law but rather change it," he told parliament.

"The bill is not just about the decriminalisation of abortion - it's about the expansion of practice of abortion."

Mr Conolly, who spoke "on behalf of unborn children", said he believed people only had the right to take human life in self-defence and "this is no such case".

Mr Elliott said he was sad that he had to oppose the bill but in his mind, it was not an election issue.

"Considering the delicate nature and community anxiety being caused, it is certainly in my mind being rushed," he said.

Mr Hazzard told parliament he respected each person's right to their own opinion but said "as legislators, our role is to govern for the whole population of NSW".

He said nothing in the bill would encourage women to have terminations.

The health minister noted concerns about late-term abortions but said the bill had a stricter provision than currently existed in NSW.

"I absolutely refute the spurious arguments being put around about abortion up until the day of birth, for no reason at all," Mr Hazzard said.

"Doctors have ethical and professional obligations that ensure they will not facilitate late-term abortions unless there is a compelling, clinical need."

Labor MPs Trish Doyle and Yasmin Catley, Nationals MP Leslie Williams, Greens MP Jenny Leong, Liberal MP Gareth Ward, Labor leader Jodi McKay and independent Greg Piper also spoke in support of the bill in parliament on Tuesday.

Ms Williams said that while abortion was criminalised, it would disproportionately impact women already disadvantaged by living remotely as well as by low socio-economic status, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Ms McKay said politicians could not legislate morality but they could decide legality, and she didn't believe abortion was a crime.

"I believe the decision a woman makes about her body is a deeply personal decision between her and her doctor," she said.

"How she justifies that decision, the path that leads her there, is a matter for her and her alone."