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Reproductive healthcare reform bill 2019

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
21 August 2019

It won’t be a surprise to anyone that I’ll be supporting this bill. 

As it is before us. 

It makes me proud to be able to stand here today as an elected representative of The Greens and proudly say that The Greens have an unwavering record of supporting women’s right to choose. 

This has been in our party’s policy, agreed to and supported by our members, since our party’s inception.

I can stand here too as a proud feminist, having worked and campaigned alongside other women since my university days for every woman’s right to choose.

25 years ago as a university student in Brisbane my friends and I organised what was my first political protest calling for that state’s archaic abortion laws to be changed. 

It wasn’t the first protest to be organised for abortion law reform by any means, and of course it wasn’t the last. 

In fact, it was pretty modest and I’m confident it would barely have caused a ripple in the wave of protests and campaigns organised by countless brave women before and since then.

But I can tell you one thing. My wonderful crew of feminist friends from the early 90s would not have fathomed then that abortion law reform would take another 25 years to be won. 

And with Queensland’s historic vote to decriminalise abortion just last year, who would have thought back then that NSW would be the last state to grant women this fundamental power over their own bodies and lives. 

Abortion was made illegal in this state when it was written into the Criminal Code in 1900, by men who are all well and truly dead today.

It was written into the Criminal Code at a time when women didn’t get the vote and were still very much considered the property of men.

Since then, thankfully, we’ve come a long way. 

But not all the way by any means.

The reporting of sexual assault and domestic violence by women continues to rise, yet we also know it is still frighteningly under-reported.

The gender pay gap still exists and sexism and misogyny is rife in our society. 

We have our most well-known radio announcer - but not most well-respected by any means - giving advice on air to our male Prime Minister to give the female Prime Minister of New Zealand a couple of backhanders.

And he still has his job.

This is 2019. This is what we are still experiencing every day as women.

And so here we are standing in this place debating whether women should have autonomy over their own bodies.

Those in opposition to this bill still want abortion to remain in the Crimes Act - despite abortion being made legal by the interpretation provided for by Levine in 1971.

Regardless of the existence of a legal framework, women have been having abortions throughout the entire history of humanity.

This bill provides a legal framework for women and their doctors so they can access abortions safely, easily and without judgment.

The Committee that inquired into this bill has stated in its report that approximately 30,000 abortions are occuring in NSW each year.

That’s hardly a surprising figure Mr President. 

Because women don’t just fall pregnant because they’ve suddenly decided to start a family or have a child.

Whether or not some opposite can stomach hearing this, people have sex. 

Millions of people in this country have sex. 

Some have a lot of sex. 

Hopefully most have sex for enjoyment. 

Apparently too men’s desire to have sex is often greater then women’s. 

If we want to stop abortions in this country the only way to do that is to stop men having sex with women. 

Doubt that’s going to fly.

Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise amongst 18-30 year olds. 

Because condom use is on the decrease. I doubt sex is.

Opponents of this bill are living in a parallel universe where sex is all about procreation and women’s bodies are nothing more than vessels to bring life into this world.

Ah, how simple the world was in the stone ages.

Anyway, back to reality. 

Women can be in controlling and abusive relationships. 

Women are raped. 

Girls are raped by their fathers, their brothers, by complete strangers. 

Some cultures and religions only allow sex in marriage. I’m not sure how that’s going for them.

The majority of adults in this country have sex for enjoyment.

Some of that sex will result in pregnancies that won’t be wanted.

This is the world we live in right now. 

This is our world - where half of us are women and where we demand full equality.

In Australia, between a quarter and a third of women will make the decision to have an abortion at some point in our lives.

In 2011, I gave a speech in this place about the barriers facing regional women seeking abortion, particularly the cost of travel, accommodation and time off work. 

This still exists today and I note the contributions of John Graham and Mick Veitch yesterday.

We need to make abortion safe, accessible and affordable for all the women who can’t afford it or who can’t access it easily and safely. 

I note my Greens colleague Abigail Boyd and her comments that rich women have always been able to access abortion relatively safely. 

Making abortion legal will help tear down those barriers to safe abortion,  whether they be cultural, socio-economic or geographic. 

It will enable women to talk with their doctors more easily and without fear of judgment or reprisal. 

Like many other women, millions of women, I too have my own story.

When I was 21, living in a share house in Brisbane and working two part-time jobs, I fell pregnant.

I immediately made an appointment to see Children by Choice, a wonderful organisation in Brisbane - the only one I knew of at the time - which provided women seeking abortion information and support in an environment free of judgment.

Ironically the option I was given was to head over the border to NSW to Tweed Heads, to a clinic which provided the service. 

It was all very clandestine. 

It was all very secret. 

It was all very criminal.

I note the Honourable Bronnie Taylor’s stories of women who were saying that abortion is viewed as shameful by some women she has heard from who have had one. My heart goes out to those women. 

For me personally, I was not ashamed then and I am not ashamed now.

In fact, it is us, as lawmakers who should be ashamed.

We should be ashamed that we have not made abortion legal and hence socially acceptable for women to make their own decisions about when and if to have a child.

We should be ashamed that we have allowed women and their doctors to navigate a murky legal environment for years putting them at risk of prosecution and making the whole process less safe.

BOCSAR figures that the past 25 years 12 people have been prosecuted under the NSW Crimes Act for abortion offences. Four of those were found guilty and sentenced. 

The most recent case was in 2017, where a Sydney woman was found guilty of self-administering a drug with the intention to bring on her own miscarriage. 

She was 28 years old and the mother of five children aged between four and nine years old.

I note some of the comments by some of the men on the other side of this debate. 

And quite a few of the anti-choice emails we have received.

Almost always from men, they say that many women have abortions because they are in ‘desperate circumstances’ or that they have been ‘pressured by male partners’.

Unfortunately that’s the case for some women.

But for many it’s because they have had sex with a man and fallen pregnant as a consequence and they’re not ready to bring a child into the world. 

Full stop.

Opponents of this bill are trying to muddy the waters by throwing around misinformation about very difficult and often traumatic circumstances that a woman might find herself in later in her pregnancy. 

They have been canvassed enough so I’m not going to dwell on them further, though only to say that I have full confidence in this legislation, in women, in their doctors and the medical profession as a whole, to ensure we are not going to see a 30 week old fetus aborted because a woman has gotten sick of carrying it. 

In fact late term abortions by desperate women are more likely under the existing murky arrangements than they are under this bill. 

Mr President, how disgraceful the misinformation and scare tactics coming from the religious right have been in this debate.

And they are straight from the playbook of their US counterparts.

This year in the US, nearly thirty states have moved to further restrict abortion rights. 

Fifteen have begun working on “heartbeat bills” which would ban abortion after six weeks.

Alabama passed a bill in May which banned abortion outright - except if the life of the mother or fetus was at risk. 

Even rape and incest are not reason enough to grant a pregnant woman an abortion if she requests one in Alabama. 

And any doctor charged with performing an abortion in that state risks up to 99 years in jail.

The Alabama law also gives the fetus legal personhood, something which Fred Nile’s bill - the so-called Zoe’s law - intends to do. 

Make no mistake. 

Some of the argument from those on the opposite side of this debate make it clear they’d prefer women had no right to choose.

They would prefer we made all abortion illegal. Some of them would probably be happy with 99 year jail terms for doctors and no doubt for women too.

Last night the Honourable Mark Latham in his speech to this bill said the Premier was wanting to send our state back to the dark ages. 

Well that’s the dark ages right there - backyard abortions. Women dying in alleyways after botched abortions or days later from infections.

Last night there was a protest in Martin Place. It was big, it was loud. It encouraged people to use a hashtag #StandforLife.

This hashtag is being used by anti-choice campaigners in the US right now too who have seen a victory in recent days.

#StandforLife among other organisations, including Family Life International, which the Reverend Fred Nile praised yesterday in a Notice of Motion he gave to the house, has been behind a campaign to remove funding from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood started in 1916 as a birth control clinic in the US and has over 600 clinics across the country. 

It is an extremely well-respected and established NGO in the US. 

Planned parenthood said on Monday it was withdrawing from the federal family planning program rather than abide by a new rule by the Trump administration prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions.

The rule also requires financial separation from facilities that provide abortion, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients

Clinics would have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions.

This is part of a series of efforts to wind back reproductive health to please far-right religious conservatives who are a key part of Donald Trump’s political base. 

Welcome to the Handmaid’s Tale. I actually think some of the men who are opposing this bill dream of living in Gilead.

Unfortunately, the tentacles of the extreme religious far right are also influencing decisions about aid in developing countries in order to stop family planning services in some of the poorest countries in the world.

This is even happening in Australia. 

In 2012, the Australian Government pledged to double funding for family planning services in its aid budget to $53 million a year.

Yet that’s been slashed in half since 2012, from $46 million to $23 million now.

Now that’s something to be ashamed about.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 40% of women of childbearing age live in countries that have highly restrictive abortion laws. 

Or, if abortion is legal, it’s not accessible to many women due to multiple barriers.

Yet despite this, women will still seek ways to terminate a pregnancy, often because the circumstances of her life are not compatible with giving a child the best start in life. 

The World Health Organisation estimates that every year across the world, five million women are hospitalised for treatment of abortion-related complications, and around 47,000 women die. 

One example in our region is the Philippines where abortion is illegal. 

Almost 1,000 women die in that country every year due to unsafe abortions. One thousand women. 

Another estimated 100,000 are hospitalised due to complications. 

When abortion is not safely and easily accessible women have unsafe abortions and die.

Yet we still have members in this place today arguing for abortion to be made illegal. 

I want to stress that when I’m talking about the religious right, I’m not referring to all Christian people. 

In fact, in a sign of the increasing distance between the Catholic Church hierarchy and people of the catholic faith you only need look as far as Ireland where, in a referendum last year that country voted to overturn a ban on abortion. 

A country where 75% of the population identifies as catholic.

Access to abortion is fundamentally linked to protecting the human rights of women.

Every woman deserves the right to make their own choice about their own bodies. To decide when, and if, they want to have children. 

It’s essential that our laws reflect this. Or else we will never be truly equal.

Thanks to everyone who played their part in making this bill happen. Alex Greenwich, the cross-party working group, the co-sponsors including my colleagues Jenny Leong and Abigail Boyd. 

Thanks to the Pro-Choice Alliance, Our Bodies Our Choice, the Women’s Electoral Lobby and all of the women in those organisations who have fought so tirelessly for this reform.

Should this bill pass it will be the culmination of more than one hundred years of lobbying, organising and protesting by thousands of women.

I note the Health Minister Brad Hazzard stating in his speech to this bill, that since abortion was criminalised 119 years ago, no one has had the courage to change the law.

That’s not quite the case.

NSW is the most religiously conservative state in this country. 

Thankfully those forces don’t play any part in the Greens.

However they are extremely powerful in other parties and we’ve seen this play out in recent weeks. 

When I first entered this Parliament in 2010, I had a handover from former member Lee Rhiannon, whom I replaced. 

We discussed the abortion law reform campaign. I was told that many pro-choice groups and individuals and MPs had been advising against trying to remove abortion from the Criminal Code in NSW. 

This seems counterintuitive I know.

But it was because there was a real risk things would go backwards as a result of the religious far-right using the opportunity to further restrict access to abortion.

My consultation with feminist groups on this issue over the succeeding years confirmed this. 

The fact that it wasn’t until just a few years ago when an abortion law reform bill was first brought before this parliament – by my federal colleague, Senator Mehreen Faruqi - is not because there wasn’t courage to do so before then. 

There was, from all sides of politics. 

It’s because those from parties who have members elected in preselections won on the back of support from the religious right, were adamant it wouldn’t pass.

Worse, they feared we risked going backwards and that while women could, by and large, obtain a safe abortion if they needed one in NSW, then we should leave it alone.

And now here we are and I am so glad we are here debating this today.

But we are seeing their fears play out.

We are seeing attempts by opponents of the rights of all women to have power over their own bodies to stymie this reform and to send us backwards.

So I say to Premier Gladys Berejiklian and to anyone who might be wavering. 

Do not be bullied by these people. The threats coming from the religious right, including some sitting on the crossbench in this house, have no place in our democracy.

This bill puts a legal framework around an essential medical practice for women that is already occurring, and will always occur.

That is all.

If this house makes it harder for women to seek abortions than the current framework allows for then this house is sending a very strong signal to the women of NSW that we are less equal to men. 

I urge everyone in NSW who wants to see this bill pass to please make your voice heard over the next few weeks. 

Please email or phone MPs to urge them to support this bill.

The passing of this bill will be a big step forward in the fight for women’s rights. 

In the fight to finally make women equal. 

Surely we owe the women of NSW nothing less.



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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
21 August 2019
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