REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL 2019 - Second Reading Debate
In February 2007 I was sexually assaulted on a work trip to Africa.
I was unable to access any medical assistance until I returned to Australia as I had flights booked. I was in shock, in trauma, alone and unable to change my itinerary.
I did the calculations as I sat on planes and waited in airport terminals. I knew that it would be too late for me to get the morning after pill within the required time frame before I could get back to Australia. I also lived in a regional area so the wait for a doctor or for access to a specialist reproductive clinic meant that I would have no chance of getting that pill within the required time.
I would just have to hope that I had not been impregnated.
I was told in my earlier years that conception would be difficult for me and despite my heartfelt desire to have children, and the love I have for my two children, I still do not know what I would have done if I had become pregnant in that circumstance. However, I do know that abortions should be safe, legal and rare.
Many brave women have shared their stories—in this place and in other public spaces, particularly over the last few weeks— of making the choice to have an abortion. I pay my deepest respects to them all. I remember, too, and pay my respects to those whom we have lost because our draconian laws placed the beliefs of others above their health.
I have always supported a woman's right to choose whether or not she has a child. I also supported the former Chief Minister and Health Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, the Hon. Wayne Berry, as he worked to decriminalise abortion in the Australian Capital Territory. In the early 1990s in Canberra I stood at polling booths to support decriminalisation. I have been a long-time member of Emily's List. At the recent State and Federal elections at polling booths and elsewhere I have been questioned on my views—sometimes quite aggressively—and I have always been clear.
As a teenager I supported my friend who found herself pregnant and, not being allowed by her parents to even have a boyfriend, had to make the trip to Sydney to have an illegal abortion in secret before returning to work in Canberra that night. I will never forget her pale face, her fear and her distress.
Recently I spoke to a close friend who was devastated to find that the abortion she had some years ago was illegal. She had never contemplated that aspect before. She made the right decision for her based on the welfare of the three children she already had and the fact that she was suddenly single and needed to provide for them. The terrible part about this debate is that it made her again question her decision, stigmatising her actions and shaming her.
It is truly heartbreaking to observe this. My heart goes out to her and to all the other women who have made this choice and who have had to go through this traumatic triggering again.
Last week I listened to Jessica, a young paramedic, say she no longer wants to go into women's bathrooms and have to spend the first few vital minutes,as women lie bleeding on the floor, trying to reassure them that they are not going to be in trouble before she can help save their lives.
In my former roles as the shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and acting shadow Minister for Women, I heard countless stories of how the fact that abortion is still a crime in this State has hampered women's attempts to escape domestic, family or sexual violence.
This shame, this stigma, this fear of the law must stop.
I was honoured to lead for the Opposition in this place on the Hon. Penny Sharpe's safe access zone bill, which was co-sponsored by the Hon. Trevor Khan. I stayed in the Chamber throughout that debate. I listened to the speeches of all members in this place. Last night I re-read them, as I have read every email and letter that has been sent to me on this topic.
I thank everyone from across Australia who has sent me representations in a respectful manner. I particularly thank Rev. Simon Hansford, and Rev.Margaret Mayman for her wise words at the rally this morning. I thank Bishop Peter Stuart, the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, for his letter supporting this bill. Their support has been very much appreciated.
Regardless of all the views expressed, I wish that all of the correspondence I have received in the past few weeks had been so respectful. I thank my staff who have had to read emails or take phone calls that have been graphic, abusive and distressing at times. I apologise that they have had to deal with that.
I am a co-sponsor for this historic bill. I thank the working group for the honour and privilege of being one of the co-sponsors. This is an important debate and I am glad we are finally having it.
A lot has been said in the public debate about conscience and religious freedom. Although I stand by every single word I said in the debate on the safe access zones bill, today I want to address conscience and religious freedom.
I was brought up as a Catholic and my beliefs on social justice have always felt consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, except in relation to abortion. I knew at close range the difficulties and lifelong consequences of unplanned pregnancies—friends who themselves were adopted, friends who adopted out children and then grieved for them for years knowing those children were having lives that they could never see, friends who had abortions under often horrendous circumstances or who had abortions and then had difficulties conceiving later and blame themselves, and those who faced medical issues or even death if they persisted with their pregnancies.
As I said last year, life is complex, messy and unique. None of us knows what is ahead of us or how we will face it. It just did not make sense to me—and it still does not make sense to me—that the compassionate and caring God I know would judge these girls and these women for the choices they made in circumstances where they were disempowered, financially insecure, mortally ill, emotionally unprepared—or whatever else it was that led to them that most difficult decision.
Many years ago, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church from Vatican II, I found my answer. Gaudium et Spes (Hope and Joy) states:
"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey ... For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God … His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary…"
Article 6 of Dignitatis humanae—or Of the Dignity of The Human Person—states on moral conscience:
"Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions."
The question of conscience on this issues has vexed many people of faith. I thank Patsy McGarry for his comments in The Irish Times during the Irish referendum on abortion when he said:
"Before then, no homicide was involved if abortion took place before the foetus was infused with a soul and became a human being. "Ensoulment" was the word used to describe this. That, it said, took place at "quickening", when there is the first movement in the womb."
In 1591 Pope Gregory XIV set "ensoulment" at 166 days of pregnancy, almost 24 weeks. In 1869, Pope Pius IX moved the clock to the moment of conception under penalty of excommunication.
Mr McGarry went on to say:
"Nevertheless, the matter is still subject to debate in the Catholic Church. Even as recently as 1974 the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith acknowledged that the issue of ensoulment was still an open question …"
In summary, it is possible for a good Catholic in good faith to act contrary to the teachings of the church.
I do not presume to call myself a good Catholic, but I am a person of deep faith in a compassionate God. I have been gravely offended by those who have assumed that I am not. I ask members opposite who oppose the bill on the basis of their conscience and on the basis of their faith to let women in this State make their own decisions based on their consciences and their faiths. I will not be one to judge others.
As Matthew 7:1-2 says:
"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
Most importantly, we must remember that by respecting the beliefs and privacy of others we do not diminish our own faith; in fact, we strengthen it. I feel that has been lost in this debate.
I speak today not to defend my own vote in favour of the bill, but to reach out to other members who may feel conflicted by their faith. I do not wear my faith on my sleeve and many members may be surprised to hear me talk about it, but I think we need to talk about it because I know some members are struggling with it.
There is a place for people of faith to ensure that women are able to access safe and legal abortion in New South Wales through decriminalisation. Women who are poor, in regional, rural and remote areas or who are disempowered by those around them should be free to make a choice about what happens to their own bodies. In our hearts, members know that this will reduce late‑term abortions.
For those who argue it has been legal to have an abortion in New South Wales since 1971 when Judge Levine delivered his decision in R v Wald, consider that just two years ago a woman was prosecuted for self‑inducing an abortion. I understand that this case has since been used to deny women access to abortions. If members read that case—and I urge them to do so—they will see that there were a lot of other issues going on and she was the last person who should have been prosecuted.
Women from my electorate have told terrible stories of being unable to access medical abortions, causing more trauma, more expense and more delays.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition when she said that we must ensure that women from regional, rural and remote electorates are able to access safe and legal abortions. We can no longer be hypocrites in this place. We cannot put the rights of potential future, emerging or imagined children above the women who stand in front of us. We either support women who seek abortion, and treat them with compassion and love, or we treat them as criminals. That, at its heart, is the simple question we must ask ourselves. We are in this place to make laws that reflect the will of the people in our community, not to make moral judgements on them.
More than 73 per cent of people support safe and legal access to abortion for women. Many people in New South Wales do not even know it is a crime.
After 119 years it is past time for the New South Wales Parliament to reflect the support that exists for women in our community.
The law was made nearly 20 years before women were allowed to be elected to this place, and it was not even debated in this Parliament until two years ago.
Some members have argued the technical aspects of the bill—I leave that to them. After 119 years I say enough.
As a previous speaker said, we should not let perfection stand in the way of good. In fact, many of the amendments go against the very aims of the bill.
I wish a woman's voice had been enough to start the conversation in this place. Sadly, one woman's voice is still not enough. I thank all of those people who have raised their voices to bring us to this point. I hope our voices will be heard at last. I thank each and every member of the 90 organisations that form the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance. I do not have time to go through them individually, but I thank them so much.
I think back to 2007 and those agonising moments that stretched into hours, then days and weeks while I waited to find out if the violence that had been perpetrated against me would leave me with a pregnancy and perhaps a child, as well as the lifelong trauma, pain and suffering of my rape.
It was just too much. That will never leave me.
As a victim and survivor, I say to everyone in this place it is wrong that if I had been impregnated I would have been subject to the same Act as my perpetrator, the Crimes Act 1900.
Abortion simply does not belong in the Crimes Act. I commend the bill to the House.