Doctors' rights to object to abortion the focus of debate

Conscientious objection rule strengthened

The NSW Legislative Council is debating conscientious objection to abortion for doctors and other medical workers.

A Mark Latham (One Nation) amendment would give doctors and other medical workers a “comprehensive conscientious objection” which would allow them to have nothing to do with abortion. The original bill would require medical practitioners to refer a patient seeking abortion to someone who would provide a termination.

An alternative amendment moved by Niall Blair (Nationals) would change the original bill to allow a doctor to refer patients to NSW Health instead. This would lessen their involvement in abortion.

Greg Donnelly (Labor) a strong supporter of pro-life amendments quotes the Ambrose Centre for Religious Freedom submission to the earlier inquiry that making  practitioners with a conscientious objection to take part in an abortion as “coercive.” “The health practitioners belief should be respected as much as the person requesting a termination,” Donnelly quotes from the Ambrose submission.

Matthew Mason-Cox (Liberals) tells the house of an obstetrician who has withdrawn over conscientious objection. Damien Tudehope (Liberals) echoes that point “Do we want to deprive a country town of its only medical practitioner … holding a traditional view of the Hippocratic oath?”

Mark Buttigieg (Labor) says that the Blair amendment is a good attempt at making the bill work, striking an appropriate balance. “If it improves the claims of those who have a conscientious objections and does not restrict those who want an abortion I will support it.” He described some amendments as wishing to re-regulate abortion.

After many hours the debate draws to a close.

The Latham amendment is lost 27-14

The Blair amendment is won 31-10

This means that doctors with a conscientious objection will simply have to direct patients seeking a termination to NSW Health rather than do a referral to another doctor. this lessens their involvement in abortion.

Disability and Abortion

Greg Donnelly (Labor) introduces an amendment about “disabled people in Utero.” He talks about unborn people living with down syndrome as a subset of persons diagnosed as with disability. A whole range of new an more sophisticated tests are coming that test for genetic conditions. It is creating a scenario where the unborn where “the outcome of tests are having a profound impact on whether the unborn will be born alive”

He quotes WA stats to show that 93% of women who have a diagnosis of Down Syndrome in a prenatal test have a termination. “The Down Syndrome people are being wiped out.”

His amendment would require information to be offered to people in this situation including the support of the NDIS and peer networks of people with a disability.

Abigail Boyd of the Greens said the amendments were offensive, and “co-opted the rights and struggles of people with a disability.”

Fred Nile (Christian Democrats) told a story of a disability support worker told by a doctor that if her baby tested for Down syndrome “we would take care of it” meaning a termination. “We do not want our doctors in NSW recommended eugenic abortions.”

Matthew Mason-Cox mentions that as parent of a daughter with Down Syndrome “I have been in this place,” but would not want to judge anybody.

“I just want to put on the record what it means,” and describes going through the testing regime. He describes a system which can have false positives for the first round of testing. The accuracy of later tests can vary according to whether parents are in the private or public health system. He says it is important that people have good information and counselling.

Penny Sharpe (Labor) says these are very challenging amendments. “The heart of it for me is that we just have to trust women to make the decisions they have to make.” But she was unable to support the amendment despite acknowledging the sincerity of its supporters. “For me bodily autonomy is important to me,” a women with a disability wrote to Sharpe. Another woman with a disability wrote about how easy I was for her to have an abortion compared to the questioning she received when she wanted to become a parent. Sharpe says there is a need for dialogue with the disability community regarding this bill.

The Donnelly amendment is lost 26-14

Sex selection again

Damien Tudehope (Liberals)moves another set of amendments on sex selection. Guidelines are established in this amendment, which has been the result of negotiations with the proponents of the bill. One  provision is that this Parliament opposes sex election. The main provision is the  creation of guidelines to prevent abortions being performed solely for the purpose of sex selection, to be further informed by an inquiry.

Niall Blair (Nationals) supports the amendment. He says that the process of getting the Health secretary to draw up the guidelines will avoid unintended consequences. The main unintended consequences concerns complicating the work of doctors. “this really strikes a balance.”

Walt Secord (Labor) supports the bill. “It will not restrict a woman’s access to termination.”

Abigail Boyd (Greens) appreciate the efforts to consult with one another, but the Greens were not consulted. “There is much in this that does not make sense to us.”

Penny Sharpe (Labor) does not support the amendment while describes it as “thoughtful”, but does not believe the evidence of same sex selection has been made.

Matthew Mason-Cox (Liberal) says the Parliament has listened to the public of NSW, the rallies and the emails. “We have a solution we can trumpet.”

Adam Searle (Labor) appreciates the hard work in this amendment but won’t be supporting it “A solution search of a problem.”

Fred Nile (Christian Democrat) says he “looks forward to the Health Department conducting the review which will provide practical evidence.”

Damien Tudehope (Liberal)says this has engaged the people of NSW like no other issue he has seen. This has not been the work of a small group. “The people of NSW through their determination has made the parliament listen.”

Courtney Houssos (Labor) The gallery sent a message to us in the chamber. And will reflect the views of the broader community.

The amendment passes 28-13

A night of compromise has seen sex selection and conscientious objection compromises passed.

The house adjournment debate begins as the gallery claps.