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NSW women ending pregnancies at risk of serious criminal charges

November 14, 2018

Moves to amend the NSW Crimes Act 1900 to give legal personhood to a foetus are unnecessary and present a real risk to women's reproductive rights by opening the possibility of serious criminal prosecution for women who have an abortion.

Peak bodies including Family Planning NSW, Women's Health NSW, the Law Society of New South Wales, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and the New South Wales Bar Association are among expert organisations that have formally opposed the Private Members Bill (Zoe's Law) proposing changes to the Crimes Act 1900.

NSW Family Planning Director of Medical Services Dr Deb Bateson said the new Bill was a great risk to the reproductive independence of women.

"This Bill is unnecessary and presents a real risk to women's reproductive rights by giving legal personhood to a fetus," Dr Bateson said.

"This change to the law could be used to further restrict access to lawful abortions and we're worried, this provision could see women who have an abortion, treated as serious criminals.

"NSW is the last Australian state where abortion remains a criminal offence. This Bill – which would grant rights to a fetus – presents a real risk to the reproductive rights of NSW women.

"As experts, working in women's health we understand the pain and grief experienced with the loss of a fetus in any circumstance. However, we support the view of other peak bodies that current laws respond appropriately to the loss of a fetus when a crime or serious accident is the cause.

"Changes in 2005 to the Crimes Act allow firm legal recourse against harm to a fetus and can carry a maximum prison sentence of 25 years," Dr Bateson said.

The Private Members Bill is due to be voted on in the NSW Parliament this Thursday, November 15, 2018. Health experts, women's rights advocates and legal bodies are urging politicians to vote against the Bill and avoid the dangerous precedent."

"We are appealing to politicians that this Bill will set the clock back for women in NSW. It will allow women to be prosecuted for making a decision to end a pregnancy and create real legal risks for women and the health workers who care for them," Dr Bateson said.

She said globally, similar laws had been the first step toward the prosecution of women for exercising reproductive choices.

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