Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams speaks in favour of bill to decriminalise abortion in state parliament

Sensitive, complex bill: Activists for and against a bill decriminalising abortion have rallied at NSW's Parliament House. Photo: Australian Associated Press
Sensitive, complex bill: Activists for and against a bill decriminalising abortion have rallied at NSW's Parliament House. Photo: Australian Associated Press

Port Macquarie MP Leslie Williams has acknowledged the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 as a "sensitive, emotive and complex issue" during an address to state parliament on Tuesday.

Mrs Williams, who was one of the co-sponsors of the bill, was among a number of MPs to speak in favour of the proposal.

Anti-abortion and pro-choice activists rallied on Macquarie Street as the debate continued inside the chamber.

The MP said she had received support for her stance while acknowledging some constituents were "ill-informed about the bill".

"I received a letter from the Zonta Club of Port Macquarie urging me to support the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, which reflected the international organisation's view," Mrs Williams said.

"Zonta agrees with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which states in part that 'the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters related to sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, as a contribution to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and the realisation of their human rights'.

"I understand this is a sensitive, emotive and complex issue and that people will have differing views.

"I thank those in support of this bill and those opposed to it for contacting my office to voice their opinion.

"I have spoken to a number of constituents in the Port Macquarie electorate who have been ill-informed about the bill as it relates to the ability of doctors and other health practitioners to refuse to be involved in a termination procedure.

Part 8 of the bill clearly and comprehensively articulates that medical practitioners will not be forced to perform abortions.

Leslie Williams

"Part 8 of the bill clearly and comprehensively articulates that medical practitioners will not be forced to perform abortions.

"A medical practitioner is, however, required to follow the process as outlined in the bill if they are to avail themselves of the protection of conscientious objection.

"They must, first, disclose that they have a conscientious objection and, secondly, transfer the care of the woman seeking a termination to another practitioner who does not have a conscientious objection."

Mrs Williams said that while abortion remains criminalised, it would continue to disproportionately impact on women already disadvantaged by remoteness as well as by low socio-economic status, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Only when women in our communities can be freed from the stigma and fear associated with making the very difficult choice about their pregnancy and subsequent termination will they be able to access safe, accessible and timely reproductive health services in regional NSW, she said.

"Decriminalisation of abortion is broadly supported across the medical and legal communities," she added.

The private member's bill would allow pregnancy terminations up to 22 weeks.

It would also permit later abortions if two doctors considering all the circumstances agree the termination should be performed.

The MP also noted the significance of the bill which attracted multi-party support.

"This is the first co-sponsored legislation ever introduced into the NSW Legislative Assembly and has more co-sponsors than any other piece of legislation in the history of the parliament," she said.

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