CANBERRA, Australia: Abortion has been decriminalised across Australia after the last remaining state where it was illegal, New South Wales (NSW), voted to reform its laws.
The bill, passed on Thursday, abolished a 119-year-old law which had been criticised by opponents as archaic.
The legislation had generated weeks of heated debate and deeply divided the state’s conservative government.
The Catholic Church said today was a “dark day” for NSW and a “defeat for humanity”.
The reform had been strongly opposed by some activists and MPs who raised objections due to their personal beliefs, as well as concerns about late-term abortions.
Previously, abortions were possible in NSW only if a doctor deemed there was “serious risk” to a woman’s health. The legislation was passed 26-14 in the state’s lower house after discussions about more than 100 possible amendments. It has already been approved by the upper house.
The law makes it legal for abortion to be conducted up to 22 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy if two doctors agree.
\MP Penny Sharpe, one of the bill’s co-sponsors said: “This is a massive step forward for women in this state.”Berejiklian, who faced significant public criticism from conservative figures over the bill, was not in the chamber for the final vote. But she later defended her absence.
“I had to run the state,” she said.
She pointed out that the bill had passed on the voices and said she would have been there to cast a vote if a division was called.
“When I am required to be in the chamber I am and I had full confidence that the house would resolve it in a positive way,” Berejiklian said.
Conservative and religious groups criticised the government for trying to “rush” the bill through without enough public consultation.
Berejiklian intervened several times to allow more time for debate.
Federal Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, and former prime minister Tony Abbott, were both high-profile opponents of the bill, with Joyce describing it as the “slavery debate of our time”.