Sydney, Australia, Aug 6, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- As the parliament of New South Wales opened debate on a bill to decriminalize abortion in the Australian state Tuesday, hundreds of pro-lifers joined a three-day prayer vigil.
The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 would allow abortion for any reason up to 22 weeks of pregnancy; after that, it would allow for abortions if two doctors believe an abortion should be performed, considering physical, social, and psychological circumstances.
The Legislative Assembly, the lower house of the state parliament, began debating the bill Aug. 6.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney is calling all Catholics to pray against the bill’s passage. He opened St Mary’s Cathedral for 65 hours of continuous Eucharistic adoration beginning the afternoon of Aug. 5, which will conclude the morning of Aug. 8.
“I need you to be praying, to be fasting and to be contacting your MP and saying this is not good enough,” Archbishop Fisher said in an Aug. 1 video message.
The bill does not mandate any counseling or period of consideration for the woman, and it would require doctors with conscientious objections to refer women to other abortion providers.
Dr. Richard Lennon, a Sydney medical doctor, participated in a pro-life vigil and spoke to The Catholic Weekly, the publication of the Archdiocese of Sydney, about his concerns regarding lack of conscience protections.
“To send someone off to have an abortion is just as bad as doing it oneself,” he said. He added that “similar law is in existence in Victoria where one doctor has been brought before the medical board and warned because he refused to do a sex-selection abortion.”
“As a doctor what I want to do is to offer them support and the best medical care I can. But abortion is none of that, it is anti-health and anti-medicine,” Lennon stated.
The bill would also make it a criminal offense for individuals to perform abortions without the proper authorizations, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for doing so.
According to supporters of the bill, it clarifies what they believe were previously ambiguous terms in penal code with regard to abortion.
But opponents believe it opens the possibility of elective abortion at any time, as long as two doctors consent.
Under current law, abortion is only legal in NSW if a doctor determine’s that a woman’s physical or mental health is in danger. “Mental health” has been interpreted by courts to include “economic and social stress.”
The bill was to have been introduced to the state parliament July 30, and debated last week. Debate was delayed, however, after concerns it had been rushed through without proper consideration.
During debate Aug. 6, Kevin Conolly, a member of the Liberal Party (part of the governing Coalition with the National Party), said the bill “will allow more abortions to occur including late-term abortions. I do not believe there is public support for that.”
“The bill is not just about the decriminalisation of abortion – it’s about the expansion of practice of abortion.”
Conolly added: “Doctors should not be forced to participate in ending the life of their patient.”
Tanya Davies, a Liberal member and fomer women’s minister, said the bill fails sufficiently to support women, saying, “There must be inbuilt requirements for pre- and post-abortion counselling if we are truly to be caring and compassionate to the women,” adding that it sees abortion “as a medical procedure akin to removing an ingrown toenail almost.”
The bill is opposed by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the NSW Presbyterian Church.
“Rather than pursuing laws that will lead to more abortions, we should instead be investing in ways to support pregnant women who feel they have no other choice,” Archbishop Fisher said July 29.
Bishop Michael McKenna of Bathurst said July 31 that “Those who propose the legislation are no doubt sincere in their arguments. However, as so often in this debate, someone is forgotten. That is the human being: unborn, but human, who has no rights when her or his life or death is being decided. Also forgotten are those medical professionals who would conscientiously oppose such procedures, from whom the law could withdraw protection. And thoroughly forgotten are the mothers faced with difficult circumstances in their pregnancies, for whom, instead of genuine care, only the bleak option of a termination is offered.”
And Fr. David Ranson, administrator of the Diocese of Broken Bay, said that “the killing of life, with the liberal possibility allowed for in the proposed legislation, cannot make ours a more human society. If with legal sanction we kill those who are most vulnerable, either at the beginning or at the end of their life, we rob ourselves of our human dignity which is best demonstrated in a quality of care exercised even in the face of life’s demand and challenge. Such an option represents a gross failure of social imagination and public moral leadership.”
But Simon Hansford, the head of the Uniting Church in Australia, an ecclesial community which claims 243,000 members across the country, has indicated his support for the bill, saying, “people face difficult decisions. Respect for the sacredness of life means advocating for the needs of women as well as every unborn child.”
Both Coalition and Labor MPs are being given a conscience vote on the bill.
It is supported by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and health minister Brad Hazzard, but is opposed by police minister David Elliott, finance minister Damien Tudehope, and treasurer Dominic Perrottet.
The bill was introduced by Alex Greenwich, an independent member who was instrumental in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia.
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