Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019

6th August 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (16:58): As a co-sponsor of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019, I support it. I was not on the working committee that drafted the bill, but after reading it and agreeing strongly with its substance I did not hesitate to be its co-sponsor to support my friend the member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, other members who were involved in it and the other 14 co-sponsors. First, I acknowledge the tremendous work on the bill by my Independent colleague the member for Sydney; the member for Summer Hill, Jo Haylen; and the Hon. Trevor Khan and the Hon. Penny Sharpe in the other House.

I also acknowledge the support of the Minister for Health and Medical Research and his powerful contribution to the debate earlier today. During the numerous contributions from both sides of the debate today, members have noted that this is a highly emotionally charged matter. However, the reforms contained in the bill are long overdue. As a co-sponsor of the bill I support them. During my 12 years in the New South Wales Parliament, I have seen a number of bills that have tested our moral compasses. The bills forced us to think deeply about an issue, not just in a legal or governance sense, but also in a deeply personal and human sense. This bill should not be dragged down by the partisan beliefs of a person, religious or otherwise. We must open our minds to the other side. As a white male aged around 60, I have to give a heightened consideration to the women in my electorate and the women in my life.

Debate interrupted and set down as an order of the day for a later hour.
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (18:00): From the outset I say that the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 should not be dragged down by one's beliefs, religious or otherwise, but rather be elevated by respect for the overwhelming wish of women and the majority of residents in New South Wales. This bill is not solely a legal issue, although it will rightly decriminalise the act of terminating a pregnancy and replace it with a standalone healthcare Act to regulate the procedure. This is foremost a health issue—a women's health issue, and an issue about an individual woman's rights over her own body.

As has already been said, this law has not been changed in 119 years, despite significant reforms being made in every other Australian State and Territory in recent decades. That is not to say there have not been attempts, but on each of those occasions the New South Wales Parliament has always been heavily weighted in number by men—that is, men making decisions about women's bodies. This is not just embarrassing; it is, in my view, shameful and it is shameful that the vanguard of opposition to this reform is once again predominantly white, Anglo men who wish to impose their views on women. Progressive-thinking men know they must consider women and, overwhelmingly, women are saying, "Get your hands off my body and off my reproductive rights."

I have spoken to a lot of women about this issue in recent weeks and I have to say that many were awkward conversations for me to have, not because of the issue itself but because I was a man trying to ask women what degree of autonomy they would like to have over their own bodies, what degree of rights they should have, what health protections they should have and whether or not the law should be restructured to protect decisions they make about their own bodies. It honestly felt like I was stumbling through the 1940s or 1950s—perhaps even the early 1900s. Can you believe that we would still have to ask those questions in 2019? Thankfully I have been given advice and support from all women in my orbit, particularly my wife, staff and friends. I am pleased that friends who are dedicated to their faith have also been able to strongly support the bill because they see that it is about removing from the criminal code termination and a woman's right to decide.

That is not to say that there are not people with opposite views; of course there are and we are hearing from them. While I do not agree with their views, I do respect their right to hold them and understand that they are invariably deeply held beliefs. But this should not be a place where personal or religious beliefs interfere with the personal health of other women. It is not a place where we deny an individual's rights to privacy and dignity, or decisions or choices that are most often made for health or medical reasons. For many years the law has averted its gaze from a woman making a choice to terminate a pregnancy—partly because the courts have taken such a broad definition of the laws as they stand, partly because the laws are inconsistent with the rest of the country and hopefully because somewhere in their conscience the lawmakers knew it was wrong to deny a woman the right to better and safer health outcomes and autonomy over her own body.

Why has the State not taken action and delivered the required law reform? If the State has spent the past 119 years failing to find the courage to decriminalise this procedure, then why on earth would it persist with the current legislation, which leaves women and health professionals exposed to a severe legal consequence for a personal decision or personal health outcome? Only 12 months ago this Parliament passed legislation that provides protection to women requiring safe access to reproductive health clinics. It was the right decision, and one that provides women with the privacy and dignity they deserve without the intimidation, shaming and bullying that so often occurred outside these clinics, predominantly from those with strong religious beliefs. I will say again that individuals are perfectly entitled to those opinions and freedoms, but such freedom does not and should not mean unfettered freedom to intimidate, coerce, bully and shame others who do not share that same religious or personal ideology.

Why would the State recognise and accept all of that, but fail to take the grey area out of existing laws on termination? This bill does that, and that is why it deserves to be supported. I do not believe any woman takes lightly the decision to terminate a pregnancy, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy. For most of those women it is not a choice at all, but a medical necessity. Women who might consider an abortion in New South Wales would not do so lightly and should have the same right to do so as women in every other State and Territory in Australia without the risk of coming into conflict with the criminal law. This bill is being greatly conflated to something that it is not: It certainly is not a bill trying to increase the number of abortions in New South Wales and it does not set out to make abortion an attractive or easy alternative to responsible sexual activity and contraception.

This bill effectively codifies under health legislation—the proper place—practices that are being carried out now under common law, but always with the spectre and stigma of it being viewed as criminal. That is wrong and must change. I commend all those who have worked for so many years to have this law changed. I acknowledge those volunteers in the community, those courageous people who have stood up and in some cases been vilified. I also recognise once again all those within this Chamber and in the Legislative Council who have been courageous enough to bring this legislation before this House. This is the right time to make these changes. I commend the bill to the House.


Website: Read full parliamentary debate here

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