Catherine Lennon: Controversial abortion bill goes too far

Faruqi’s bill legalises abortion up to birth for any reason, which makes it one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world, says Dr Catherine Lennon.
Faruqi’s bill legalises abortion up to birth for any reason, which makes it one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world, says Dr Catherine Lennon.

Abortion is readily available and accessible in NSW and is currently performed by doctors who are obliged to give counselling before a termination of pregnancy.

So why would NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi introduce a bill, to be debated in the Legislative Council today, which will actually put women and medical professionals at greater risk?
Faruqi’s bill legalises abortion up to birth for any reason, which makes it one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world.
The Greens’ simple slogans, such as “My life, my body, my choice” or “Decriminalise abortion’’, hide a radical agenda. This bill would legally allow non-medical people to perform abortions and totally removes the current legal safeguards for women.
Where is the consideration for the significant risk to women which increases when anyone can hand over some pills, or for late-term pregnant women facing an increased chance of significant pain, bleeding, infection, uterine rupture, infertility and mental health problems?
A Galaxy Research poll of 1003 NSW voters in April 2017, commissioned by Abortion Rethink, showed that 90 per cent believe a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor. The same poll found that 90 per cent of voters support independent counselling for women considering an abortion from a source that has no financial interest in the decision.

media_cameraDr Catherine Lennon is a Sydney GP specialising in women’s health.

Unfortunately, this is not occurring in the vast majority of cases because many women self-refer to commercial abortion clinics and are not offered proper counselling before the procedure.
As a GP who specialises in women’s health, I know how important a visit with a doctor can be to offer a personalised approach to a woman’s mental and physical wellbeing in that decision-making phase.
Most of the women I see who have had an abortion say they would have appreciated more information beforehand and may even continued their pregnancies had they experienced more support.
Already there is a huge problem of women with unplanned pregnancies feeling pressured, unsupported and sometimes coerced or forced into an abortion by a boyfriend or relative.
Some told their story at a panel event at Parliament House last week, but Ms Faruqi was not listening. Only 5 per cent of NSW voters support abortion up to birth, which is the extreme position taken by this bill.

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Likewise, 83 per cent are opposed to the practice of terminating a pregnancy based on the sex of the unborn baby, usually when the baby is a girl in many cultures — known as sex-­selection abortion — which this bill would legalise.
Similar legislation passed in Victoria in 2008 resulted in Dr Mark Hobart being admonished by the medical board for “breaking the law” in Victoria because he refused to refer a woman for a sex-selection abortion when she was 19 weeks pregnant with a baby girl.
The “conscientious objection clause” of the Faruqi bill directly attacks doctors by threatening to charge them with professional misconduct if they do not refer to abortionists. This could lead to reprimand or deregistration by the medical board. This outrageous clause is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A woman doesn’t need a doctor’s referral in NSW to procure an abortion. In the landmark ruling in 1971, Justice Aaron Levine said that an abortion was not unlawful if a doctor honestly believed on reasonable grounds that “the operation was necessary to preserve the woman involved from serious danger to her life or physical or mental health which the continuance of pregnancy would entail’’.
“Mental health” has since been interpreted by the courts to include “the effects of economic or social stress that may pertain either during pregnancy or after birth’’.
In NSW, the only person in the last 40 years charged with performing an “unlawful abortion” was abortion provider Dr Suman Sood who was found guilty of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” after her patient gave birth to a 23-week-old baby in a toilet who subsequently died.

Dr Sood caused so much pain and suffering to women that she was named in NSW Parliament by then Health Minister Reba Meagher. We need to keep the current NSW laws on abortion to protect women from rogue abortion providers such as Dr Sood.

Only 16 per cent of NSW voters think the current abortion law is too restrictive. More than two-thirds are happy with the law as it is or want it to be tightened.
Faruqi’s Abortion Law Reform Bill focuses on only one option — open slather abortion, regardless of the cost to women. Instead, let’s keep the safeguards under our current NSW abortion law and focus on offering women with unplanned or problem pregnancies more counselling and support through improved funding for pregnancy support and counselling centres, so they can be well-informed about a range of choices.

Dr Catherine Lennon is a Sydney GP specialising in women’s health, counselling and fertility problems, and is NSW president of Doctors for Life
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