New South Wales, Australia map
Map of New South Wales, Australia

SYDNEY - A bill to decriminalize abortion in the only Australian state where it is illegal has been introduced into the New South Wales (NSW) parliament Thursday.  Lawmakers from across the political spectrum will come together to try to repeal legislation dating back more than a century.

The proposed law would allow abortion in Australia’s most populous state up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.  After that time, terminations would be permitted with the consent of two doctors.

Abortion remains illegal in New South Wales, the only state in the country where it is outlawed.

The Crimes Act of 1900 includes abortion as an offense punishable by 10 years in prison, but prosecutions are rare.

Reports suggest there is sufficient support among lawmakers for the bill to pass, but critics of reform have vowed to fight to prevent its passage.

Pro-life campaigners have joined conservative politicians and church leaders in opposition to the abortion bill.  One religious leader said the proposal was ‘sneaky’ and ‘extreme,’ while other campaigners said women with unwanted or unexpected pregnancies should be given more support and that abortion should not be “pushed” as the first option.

But supporters of the measure say it will protect women, and give them access to safe and legal abortions.

Independent lawmaker Alex Greenwich said it is a modern and carefully crafted piece of legislation.

“We also make sure there are conscientious objection provisions in place, so doctors who do not wish to perform a termination must refer on the patient for care.  This bill is based on the Queensland model, which follows a robust Law Reform Commission process,” said Greenwich.

The state of Queensland decriminalized abortion last year, while lawmakers in Tasmania approved similar laws in 2013, and in Victoria in 2008.   It is estimated that 65,000 terminations are carried out across Australia each year.

The last attempt to decriminalize abortion was introduced to the New South Wales parliament in 2017, but failed to attract enough support.

Opinion polls have indicated that most Australians support broad access to abortion.  

It is estimated that up to a third of Australian women will choose to terminate a pregnancy.   

Lawmakers in New South Wales are expected to make a final decision on the proposed changes by the end of next week.