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Many constituents have asked for a further explanation why yesterday on the 8th August 2019, I supported the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019.

Please see below the speech I delivered on the floor of NSW Parliament in support of the bill.

I rise in the chamber to support the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019.

I will speak in favour of the bill today as it is time, here in the Parliament of NSW, that we recognise terminating a pregnancy is not a crime.

All Australian states and territories except NSW have already decriminalised pregnancy terminations. Only in this State do we continue to favour a criminal approach over a regulated regime of medical supervision.

Now, I understand that some do not support this Bill. Some here in the chamber today, some in every single member’s electorates.

As representatives, we must respect that the decriminalisation of a pregnancy termination provokes very diverse and broad opinions. These views are sincerely held and we must respect their right to choose. But we also must face the facts – one in five women in Australia will terminate a pregnancy in their lifetime. Terminations affect women in all of our electorates, whether publicly spoken about or not. And with respect, terminations affect women present in this very chamber today.

Sections 82 and 84 of the Crimes Act, are over a century old and a product of that climate. Women did not have a right to vote, women certainly did not have a right to be in this chamber and our voices were irrevocably silenced in the debate controlling our own reproductive health. Ironically, the British regime our laws are based on, was removed by the British Parliament over 40 years ago, in 1967.The criminalisation approach of NSW to this issue no longer aligns with current community expectations, both within our state and around the country. We can no longer ignore that research indicates over 70% of this State supports the right to choose.

Just as we must respect each individual’s right to an opinion in this debate…we must also recognise an individual’s right to have autonomy over their own reproductive health.

It is also key to remember that the current laws effectively have no practical application in New South Wales. Since the early 1970’s, NSW courts have determined a medical practitioner can perform a termination if necessary to avoid serious danger to the woman’s life, or her physical or mental health before AND after the pregnancy. A serious danger is interpreted broadly such that any “economic, social or medical ground” is considered.This Bill will finally establish a statutory scheme, ensuring clarity and regulation for medically supervised terminations. So considering these outdated laws are so rarely prosecuted, the actual practical impact of the criminalisation of terminations is this: further adding barriers to access for those seeking terminations.

Fear, confusion, isolation, stress… terror.

These are the key words spoken by local women in my community seeking terminations. There are many reasons why my colleagues in this chamber have and will speak in support of this bill. However I would like to take the rest of my speech to highlight an important issue nation-wide but also personal to my electorate. An issue very closely entwined with this Bill but absent so far in the public discourse.

That issue is domestic and family violence.

  • Police in Australia, deal with domestic and family violence every two minutes. That is roughly 440 calls just today.

  • 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

  • On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.

We have heard the statistics, we know the frightening reality for women in this country. We know that domestic and family violence rates are higher in rural and regional NSW.

But do we also know, that 1 in 4 domestic and family violence victims also report coercion over their reproductive lives? This is known as “reproductive coercion”.

For those unaware, reproductive coercion is a serious and silent facet of domestic violence. Pregnancy can be used as a tool of control, and a sign to the violent perpetrator that they have power over their partner’s body. These behaviours can include birth control sabotage - where contraception is deliberately thrown away or tampered with, threats, use of physical violence if a woman insists on condoms or other forms of contraception, emotional blackmail as well as forced sex and rape. Reproductive coercion is an easy, effective and cowardly way of manipulating and controlling a woman by limiting her autonomy over her fertility and reproductive health and choices. It is an additional tool used by perpetrators of violence.

The Global Turnaway Study shows that American women who seek and are denied terminations are more likely to remain in violent relationships than women who are able to access the procedure. Whilst this is still an emerging area of research in Australia, we know enough to understand how serious a problem reproductive coercion is, and how much risk our barriers to termination procedures place on women in violent relationships.

The risk of these outdated laws still have a very real effect.

For example, a 2018 paper by MS Australia titled ‘Hidden Forces on Reproductive Coercion’ indicate that women with an unintended pregnancy are FOUR times more likely to experience physical partner violence. Furthermore, children born in domestic violence relationships strongly decreases any chance of separation.

In my electorate, there is almost no access to terminations. Access to terminations for women in Shellharbour is financially inaccessible, stressful and almost impossible. It is always regional and rural areas who are most disproportionally impacted by out of date laws such as these.The fantastic non-government community based, Illawarra Women’s Health Centre receive approximately 15 inquiries and provide up to 7 terminations a week. Only last week a woman seeking a termination approached the Centre. I have been given permission to share her story, one story among many.

To respect of her privacy, I have changed her name.

Mary already had 3 children, all cherished and loved deeply.

Mary entered into a relationship with a new partner. After a period of time he became extremely physically and emotionally violent. He was a perpetrator of domestic violence. It was very clear that this man was a danger to Mary and her 3 children.

After discovering she was pregnant, Mary knew that keeping the fetus would endanger the welfare of herself, her three children and most was the serious risk to her unborn child.

Mary then made the personal, deeply complex and difficult decision to have a termination.

The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre were able to support Mary – safely, confidentially and with financial assistance.

Mary is just one story, a snapshot of a bigger darker underbelly of reproductive coercion, domestic violence and laws preventing access to terminations.

Mary deserves the right to choose.

Shellharbour women deserve the right to choose.

And women across NSW deserve the right to choose, just like their counterparts across Australia are already entitled to do.

Let’s bring NSW into the 21st century. The framework this Bill institutes are well-considered, clear and adapted to address the uncertainty for women and medical practitioners who engage with these procedures.

I hope those in this chamber will stand with me, stand with victims of reproductive coercion, stand with every woman in this State and vote yes for a more compassionate and empathetic healthcare system in NSW.

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