Anti-abortion MP threatens to leave government

Tanya Davies, the strong anti-abortion campaigner in the NSW Parliament has told the premier Gladys Berejiklian that she (and a colleague) are prepared to “separate herself from the government” if “you do not make essential amendments ” to the decriminalisation of abortion bill.

“This will lead the government into minority government,” Davies told a meeting at St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Parramatta. The Reproductive Health Bill 2019 has passed the NSW lower house, but the progress has been slowed because of community concern, and pressure from MPs opposed to the changes.

The public response has “spooked the Premier and the cabinet,” Davies said. “I have to congratulate Archbishop Glenn Davies and the other religious leaders on how quickly they organised a response.”

Davies was joined by Tania Mihailuk, who has led the resistance from within the ranks of ALP MPs. “We need to continue to fight, to send the message there needs to be a compromise on this.”

Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies congratulated the two MPs for the way “they stood up against their two parties.”

The meeting did not raise hopes of defeating the bill, but on gaining amendments.

“I am very impressed by Tanya Davies being willing to give up her political career and move to the cross benches,” Archbishop Davies said.

“We should be writing to members of the Legislative Council,” he added. “If you have written, write again.”

Archbishop Davies said the bill was “literally a matter of life and death. The unborn are precious to God so they should be precious to us.”

A ban on gender selection of babies is a key amendment sought by opponents of the bill. The bill currently calls for a review after a year of collecting data on this subject, but Davies challenged parliamentarians: “If you really oppose it, put it in the bill and stop it”.

The meeting, chaired by St John’s Cathedral minister David Ould was designed to address “what difference you can make in the abortion debate.” Keeping the pressure – or increasing it – to achieve amendments on sex selection, conscientious objection rights for medical personal and counselling for pregnant women were key topics. One point raised by Tanya Davies was that abortions before a 22 week threshold will no longer require a doctor’s assessment – it will be abortion on demand. A video of the meeting is here.

In addition, the meeting heard from Diamond Women’s Support on how to practically help women facing a choice about abortion. An Eternity interview with founder Jennifer Gurry on the holistic services Diamond Women’s Support provides is here.

The meeting did not raise hopes of defeating the bill, but on gaining amendments.

In a newsletter from the Presbyterian Gospel Society and Culture Committee, a closely-argued analysis of the bill by convenor John McClean points out that opposition to the bill has been led by Christians.

“I found it incredibly moving to see Christians of very different styles working together on a crucial issue.”

“The vast majority of those opposing the bill were people with religious convictions, and most of those were Christians. While opponents drew attention to particular concerns about the bill, they almost always expressed a fundamental disagreement with terminating pregnancies.”

He notes “I found it incredibly moving to see Christians of very different styles working together on a crucial issue.” But he notes that not all Christians opposed the bill, citing Peter Stuart, Anglican Archbishop of Newcastle (Eternity published his comments here) and Simon Hansford of the NSW/ACT Moderator of the Uniting Church. McClean is critical of both, citing Stuart’s comment as showing “the connection between theological and moral orthodoxy. Churches which maintain classic Christian doctrines are far more likely to recognise that abortion is a moral evil.”

But he is in fact much more critical of Christians like the Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has stated she would not personally have an abortion. But she voted for the bill and tried to clear the way for it to get through quickly. “Not only did I cast my vote according too what I believe but I cast my vote according to how future generations have to deal with the issue,” Berejiklian said.

McClean makes the point that, “I am more disturbed by Christians who take this kind of position than those who take Bishop Stuart’s approach and argue there might be a wider set of circumstances in which abortion is morally acceptable. The implication in [Berejiklian’s] position is that there is a complete distinction between private religious moral positions and public ethics. In which case I don’t think you have a recognisable Christian ethics at all.”

Making the point that “there is a case for reforming a law which has become as pointless as the current abortion law” has (a law which maintains abortion as a criminal offence but for which the police have a policy of not persecuting), McClean also makes the claim that passing this bill will have little effect on the number of abortions performed in NSW.

However like those at the St John’s Parramatta meeting, McClean argues for key amendments – in his case sex election, and limitations on ending the life of a child who is likely to have a disability.

Ultimately this debate is about most Christians fundamental objections to abortion rather than this particular bill.