By VANESSA LIM
Liberal Vaucluse MP Gabrielle Upton voted against the abortion bill after Premier Gladys Berejikilian caved in to her conservative colleagues in the Liberal Party and allowed a conscience vote on the bill.
This allowed politicians a vote based on their personal moral and ethical beliefs and did not attach politicians to the position of their political party or that of their electorate.
Speaking in the NSW parliament, Ms Upton defended her vote against the abortion bill: “…my fundamental concern with this bill is that it codifies late-term abortion. The question that I have truly wrestled with is: When is an unborn foetus human? At 22 weeks and beyond I believe it is a human—it is a baby.”
“Sensitive” ethical issues
While Ms Upton’s main concern is that a foetus at 22 weeks and beyond is considered human, the proposed bill would allow women to seek an abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. After that, other factors would have to be considered by professional practitioners. Women seeking an abortion after 22 weeks would have their medical, social and psychological circumstances taken into account. Moreover, unless it was a medical emergency, doctors would need to consult a second professional on late-term abortion.
Ms Upton referred to her own experience as a mother and said she sympathised with her electorate’s views.
“The Bill raises sensitive ethical and moral issues so the Premier gave MPs a conscience vote. That said, lots of residents reached out to me and it is fair to say they hold strong views both for and against the bill. I thank them for taking me into their confidence, especially with their personal stories. The debate inside Parliament has been respectful and heartfelt and we are at our best when we do that.”
While Ms Upton claimed she listened to both sides of the debate, Vaucluse local Karen Weis was not told how her local MP would vote after multiple attempts to contact her. Once she found out, Ms Weis said she wasn’t told why MP Gabrielle Upton had voted against the bill and didn’t feel that Ms Upton had given her a hearing.
“Before the vote came up, I emailed her and didn’t hear anything back from her. Then I emailed her again after the vote had been taken and didn’t hear anything back. I have emailed her previously on two different occasions about certain issues and she’s always replied. I rang her office and then just got stonewalled by the person I spoke to, who just kept reiterating that ‘it’s a conscience vote, it’s a conscience vote, it’s a conscience vote’.”
Ms Weis was surprised that an answer as to why Ms Upton had voted a certain way couldn’t be given.
Although conscience votes are based on the personal beliefs of the individual MP and not on the electorate position, it didn’t stop Ms Weis from feeling unrepresented. She was not alone on this issue. An overwhelming percentage of Liberal voters support the abortion bill in NSW: 72% of Liberal voters agree that abortions should not be criminal according to the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance and Fair Agenda online survey of 1018 voters in the last NSW election.
Results from this poll also concluded that 37% of Liberal voters would be less likely to vote for their Liberal candidate if he or she voted against removing abortion from the Crimes Act. Abortion is still listed under the NSW Criminals Act 1900.
Tension within the NSW Liberal Party has continued to brew, with some politicians such as federal Liberal MP Tony Abbott labelling the bill as “infanticide’” and leaving Liberal Premier Gladys Berejikilian, who supports the bill, in an uncomfortable position.
Women face criminal charges
The conservative party members are the biggest hurdle in getting the bill passed that would allow women to have an abortion without facing criminal charges.
Drawing on her own experience, Ms Upton said in her speech, “My babies had loving homes awaiting them. I know that not every pregnancy is like that, I know that I was fortunate.”
While she acknowledged that not all pregnancies are happy ones and agreed that women seeking abortion needed “practical support,” she still voted against the bill.
Ms Upton’s personal joy as a mother does not represent the people who need this bill the most. By not moving forward with this bill, illegal and unsafe abortions will continue to take place in NSW, putting women who see no other option in jeopardy. Voting against this bill denies women safe access to abortion clinics and classifies those who don’t have doctors’ approval for abortion as a criminal if they attempt to have one.