MPs debate medical care for babies born alive from abortions

There’s a glimmer of hope for NSW’s anti-abortion MPs who are debating amendments to new legislation. Niall Blair (Nationals) introduced an amendment that would stipulate babies born alive through abortions be given appropriate medical care and treatment except in cases where it is considered futile.

Blair’s amendment is an alternative to one proposed by Fred Nile (Christian Democratic Party) who, last night, quoted Victorian figures revealing that 10 per cent of late-term abortions resulted in babies being born alive. He also quoted Dr Megan Best saying nurses have told her about terminated babies crying.

Nile’s amendment included a provision to insist that the terminated child born alive be transported to a major hospital. Wes Fang (Nationals) objected, recalling his previous career as a Childflight pilot and saying the provision may simply remove a right of a family to grieve together.

This morning, Blair introduced his own amendment in response. He had worked on it in consultation with MPs from other parties, in place of the Nile amendment.

Blair’s amendment clarifies that a child born alive following a termination has full protection of the law and must be protected. It states that doctors and other medical practitioners have a duty of care to provide appropriate clinical care and treatment unless its futile – just as they do with any other baby born.

Upon its introduction this morning, Blair said “he wished he wasn’t moving the amendment” because it was “disappointing” to be codifying what was already contained in various laws in order to “allay community concerns and misinformation”.

“But we are there and, whether we like it or not, we have to address it,” he said.

Blair said “nothing in the bill” limited a medical practitioner or registered practitioner from their duty to provide care that is clinically safe and appropriate to the child’s condition. However, he acknowledged that many community members believed there was and thought it was best to “make it absolutely clear” and “put it to rest here by this amendment”.

Blair noted Damien Trudehope (Liberals) agreed to support his amendment, in if the Nile amendment was defeated.

Abigail Boyd (Greens) said that the Greens would not be supporting the amendment because it’s unnecessary, describing codification as a “slippery slope”.

Penny Sharpe (Labor) stated “there’s been a lot of misinformation about what doctors do and don’t do”. She added her opinion that doctors, nurses, psychologists, receptionists, and social worker who are involved with abortions are “legends”.

While also concerned that legislation being driven by codification was “not a good way to do law”, Sharpe was “comfortable enough that she won’t be opposing” Blair’s amendment.

Emma Hurst (Animal Justice Party) said that she understood the purpose of the Nile and the Blair amendments. However, she was unconvinced it would address misinformation, and believed it might encourage those who spread misinformation to do so on other bills.

Updates from this afternoon’s debate

Amendments regarding medical care for babies born alive after an abortion

Fred Nile (Christian Democratic Party) points out the differences between the two amendments.

“What Mr Blair’s amendment does not do, which mine does, is stipulate that medical practitioner must take certain steps to ensure that the abortion survivor is cared for” – such as being sent to a neonatal unit or being transferred to a facility that has one.

Niall Blair (Nationals) explains his amendment is aimed at those in the community who have “fundamentally have been ill-informed or are confused about what the requirements are at the moment”.

“This amendment is not intended to change the professional and ethical duties that already apply to practitioners in these situations. And that medical care includes palliative care”… that in exercising their duty of care doctors will provide the most appropriate care and in some cases that will be palliative and supportive care.”

“This is not trying to change the obligations of doctors to say that they all must – if a child is born as a result of a termination, alive – that they all must try to do everything within their powers to sustain that life. No. There are many cases where in the opinion of medical practitioners, their decision will be to provide palliative and supportive care.”

“I absolutely acknowledge that this amendment is different to what Rev Nile is saying,” he said.

The Nile amendment is defeated 15-26.

The Blair amendment is passed 35-6.

Amendments regarding counselling services for women who have had an abortion after 22 weeks

Courtney Houssos (Labor) moves an amendment that requires all women seeking an abortion must be offered counselling.

Niall Blair (Nationals) moves an amendment that all women seeking an abortion for a pregnancy after 22 weeks must be offered counselling “if they feel they need it” – the salient difference.

He notes that the legislation already requires that all terminations for post 22-week pregnancies take place in a public hospital, where it is already required that counselling be offered to any woman who wants it.

Abigail Boyd (Greens) says that the Greens oppose both amendments mandating the compulsory offer of counselling, saying that it implies they would make a different decision if they see a counsellor because their decision is wrong.

“Yes, professional, accurate, unbiased, confidential  and non-judgmental counselling should be available and accessible to those who want it” and notes that it already is.

But, she notes that medical practitioners are trusted to use their judgment to know whether to offer mental health support or not every day.

“We trust them to do this for a very wide-range of complex conditions, operations and treatments and at no stage have we legislated for mandatory offers of counselling. So why now just for people having terminations?

She says the notion that people will always require counselling for abortions only makes sense if abortions are regarded as “something other than a healthcare” issue,

“And of course, the whole point of this Bill is to make it very clear that abortion is an issue of a woman’s reproductive health and not an issue for other people’s faith-based judgments.”

Natasha Maclaren-Jones (Liberals) points out that the Houssos amendment doesn’t force women to have counselling, but puts the choice in the woman’s hands, rather than that of medical professionals.

Fred Nile cites research from New Zealand, the US, Britain and Denmark which illustrate that a significant proportion of women who have abortions suffer negative emotional impacts. He quotes Dr Rachel Carling’s criticism of the Bill that it doesn’t isn’t “patient-centred” and says he supports the Houssos amendment.

Penny Sharpe (Labor) says best practice is already upheld and most of these amendments are getting in between doctors and patients, which she thinks is unnecessary and doesn’t support.

Matthew Mason-Cox (Liberals) supports the Houssos amendment but will support the Blair amendment if it fails. His reason is that women may need counselling at any point in the pregnancy.

The Houssos Amendment is defeated 15-26.

The Blair Amendment is passed 24-17.

Amendments about sex selection

Damien Tudehope (Liberals) moves a group of amendments that would ban same sex selection. The new parts of the bill would ban abortions solely on the grounds of sex selection – and are “targeted specifically”. This includes selection on the basis of male, female or intersex but it does not include gender-related genetic conditions.

Tudehope says he “finds himself in agreement with the Greens” on the issue of making sure intersex foetuses are not targeted. He cites a SBS radio report to suggest that sex selection “already takes part in NSW” using ABS stats. In the SBS report there were 279 “missing girls” from the ethnic Chinese immigrant community 2003-2013, and 125 missing girls from the Indian immigrant community over the same period. Tudehope goes on to cite individual cases of same sex selection in immigrant communities in Sydney.

Abigail Boyd of the Greens says while their policy opposes abortions that target intersex, they “believe the way to deal with all gender selection abortions is through education.” She states there is “no credible evidence that gender selection is occurring.” A ban would force abortion providers to “second guess patients intentions in seeking an abortion,” which would erode trust between doctors and their patient. She accuses supporters of the amendment of “racist dog whistling.”

Trevor Khan (Nationals) points out that the Lower House adopted unanimously an amendment providing for data collection on sex selection, rather than a ban. “Nothing has changed since then.” Khan’s intervention is consistent with a number of Nationals members rejecting conservative amendments. He points out that sex selection legislation in eight US states has been ineffective. He foreshadows other amendments to make sure effective data collection will take place. Banning coercive conduct for sex selection is also being considered. While opposing the amendment as “misconceived”, he says “there are some things we can do to signal that sex selection is inappropriate,” pointing towards data collection.

Scott Farlow (Liberals) says what Boyd said about “racist dog whistling” was “an outrageous comment that was made for those who share the concern for sex selection abortions.” He says that it is hard to see how data about sex selective abortions will be collected. “The Act does not have the force of law” regarding data collection.

Greg Donnelly (Labor) cites economist Amartya Sen that there are 100 million missing girls in the world (NY Review of Books piece here). The House rises to resume at 8pm.

8pm The house resumes and the debate continues.

Taylor Martin (Liberal) reminds the house that 89.3 percent of NSW people surveyed in a YouGov poll were opposed to sex selection abortion.

Fred Nile strongly endorses the amendments on behalf of the CDP. “The fear that sex selection could occur is enough to make us support this amendment.” Nile points out that Australian Foreign Aid does not fund abortion for sex selection and argues that local law should follow the same pattern.

Lou Amato (Liberal): “We have learned that all people are equal regardless of sex, of colour, of creed. But we have failed to deter the terrible practise of sex selection abortion.”

David Shoebridge (Greens) pointed to statements by organisations representing migrants and refugee opposing restrictions on abortions. “If this amendment goes through, there will be racial probing of women access reproductive health services.”

“It is hard to work out how a doctor can work out if an abortion is being sought for sex selection,” – Emma Hurst (Labor). She argues that doctors and patients simply won’t discuss the matter of sex selection if it is illegal.

Matthew Mason-Cox (Liberal) says that a stronger message to society against sex selection needs to be sent – and so he supports the amendment.

Catherine Cusack (liberal) says opposition to this amendment is because some of the bill supporters do not think a woman should be asked to give any reason for an abortion. “The whole point of this is to make abortion easier as Serve said last night.”

Daniel Mookey (Labor) criticises the harsh rhetoric against two community groups in the debate over sex selection. Speaking as a person with an Indian background he says, “I am not laying the charge of racism, but I have heard tropes that have been used to control cultures by legislation.”

Penny Sharpe (Labor) “What is in the bill is that we are going to review this, and do it properly.” She puts on the record that she has been working on the issue of sex selection in other countries. ” there os no evidence that this is happening in Australia but we need to find out if it is.”

Natasha McLaren-Jones (Liberal): “There is evidence that this is occurring. If the evidence comes back that one child has been terminated because of their gender it cannot be fixed.”

The Tudehope amendments were lost 26-15

Conscientious objection

Mark Latham (One Nation) moves an amendment for a “Comprehensive conscientious objection in the name of freedom … For Christians, jews, Muslims, Hindus and others to be asked to refer people for termination is to be an accessory to murder.” He says supporters of the bill believe “people of faith should just suck it up.” He explains that he is an atheist, who cannot see things the way religious people do, but he wants to respect their point of view.

He points out that the Religious Discrimination draft bill put forward by the Federal Attorney General could override the narrower conscientious objection provisions of the NSW Abortion Law Reform Bill. Niall Blair (Nationals) moved amendments easing the obligations on medical practitioners, instead of having to refer a patient to another doctor prepared to do a termination the doctor with a conscientious objection would simply need to refer the patient to NSW Health.

Supporting the Latham amendments Fred Nile says the bill’s provisions  “make a mockery of conscientious objection”.

Trevor Khan (Nationals) points out that the bill’s provisions reflect the opinion of the AMA and RANZCOG in requiring a doctor with a conscientious objection to refer a patient to a doctor willing to terminate. He claims that the Latham provision would override the need for doctors to perform abortions in the case of an emergency. Delay caused by a lack of referral would “not be a good outcome.'” But he supports the Niall Blair amendment as an “appropriate balance”, “a soft touch terms of the referral path.”

The house rose at midnight.