The NSW Government’s introduction of a foetal personhood bill to NSW Parliament has been criticised for setting a dangerous precedent, clashing with women’s rights.
The proposed amendments are a diluted version of “Zoe’s law” – a controversial foetal personhood bill that has been pushed for over a decade to consider the mother and the foetus as two separate people if injuries inflicted on the mother cause death to the unborn child.
State Member for Newtown and Greens Women’s Rights spokesperson Jenny Leong has condemned the Government for succumbing to pressure from its far-right constituents and pursuing the bill.
“The Liberal/National government should not be kowtowing to pressure from anti-choice, anti-women forces – this law is not necessary and it is shameful to see it being pursued,” Leong said.
“These proposed reforms will act as obstacles to women accessing abortion and other reproductive health care – not to mention increased surveillance and monitoring of women’s reproductive health choices.”
Concerns have been voiced that the Crimes Legislation (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill will complicate abortion law, imposing on women’s rights. Women’s Legal Service NSW highlight that a woman consuming prohibited drugs, resulting in the loss of her unborn child is threatened of being prosecuted under the bill as a circumstance of aggravation.
Women’s Abortion Action Campaign spokesperson Christine Smith says that when it comes to the bill, the lines are blurred.
“A closer examination of these bills over a long period of time has revealed that they’re really flawed, there’s a lot of potential for unintended consequence,” Smith told the Independent.
“Laws work differently in practice than they do in theory, and that one of the unintended consequences we see is a kind of backdoor criminalization of abortion, particularly around what you might call grey areas such as miscarriage and stillbirth.”
The NSW Government attempted to construct the draft bill to avoid naming the foetus as a person, instead to acknowledge the heartbreaking loss involved in grieving a child in its November 2020 draft bill.
Mary O’Sullivan evaluated the draft bill for Women’s Electoral Lobby’s 2020 submission to the Government and said that despite the good intentions, loopholes remain.
“The main problem with the amendments is that a number of them categorically differentiate between the pregnant woman and the foetus and once you start to do that, then you are on the verge of recognising foetal personal,” O’Sullivan told the Independent.
Further criticism has been drawn to the need of the bill as the Crimes Act currently includes the destruction of the foetus of a pregnant woman under its definition of grievous bodily harm.
The draft bill was introduced in November last year, with several women’s organisations presenting submissions to the Government on the bill. Seven News reported on 5 July that the concerns were raised by several ministers on the Premier’s final proposal of the bill. It is understood that no women’s organisations were consulted on the final proposal of the bill before it was discussed in Cabinet.