Protection of conscience an issue in backbench revolt on Australian abortion bill

Demand for compulsory referral by objecting physicians among provisions deemed unacceptable

Sean Murphy*

Two Liberal Members of Parliament in New South Wales, Australia, have threatened to break with their party cross the floor to sit in opposition if the government does not make changes to a bill decriminalizing abortion (the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019). Should they do so, the government will lose its parliamentary majority.

Among the amendments Tanya Davies and Kevin Conolly are seeking is removal of a requirement that objecting physicians provide patients with contact information for non-objecting colleagues.

If the bill passes unamended, a physician will be free to fully exercise freedom of conscience at 22 weeks plus one day (when there is no requirement to provide contact information), but not at 22 weeks minus one day (when the bill requires contact information to be supplied.)  The inexact calculation of gestational age contributes further to the arbitrariness of this restriction of fundamental human freedom. (See Abortion bill in New South Wales a global first)

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