Introduction in the Legislative Assembly
On 1 August 2019 the Independent member Alex Greenwich introduced a bill titled Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 into the Legislative Assembly to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales and for it to be regulated as a health matter. The bill was co-sponsored by 15 members across both Houses and from across the political divide. Debate was adjourned until the following week to give members time to consider the bill. Read Mr Greenwich’s speech and the bill’s explanatory notes for more details.
When Parliament resumed on 6 August, the Legislative Assembly devoted much of the week to debating the bill, which passed at 11 pm on 8 August following three days of robust debate. The Assembly made 21 amendments to the original bill before forwarding it to the Council for consideration.
Legislative Council committee inquiry
While debate was taking place in the Assembly, the Legislative Council, in preparation for receiving the bill, resolved that its Social Issues Committee conduct a short, sharp inquiry into the bill to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide their views to upper House members.
The committee received over 13,000 submissions from the public and heard 15 hours of evidence from 44 witnesses. The committee produced a report based on the evidence received which was published just prior to the Council sitting on Tuesday 20 August.
Debate in the Legislative Council
The Council proceeded to debate the bill on 20 and 21 August. Over this 10 hour debate all members spoke, except for the President in the Chair, with each thoughtfully noting their reasons for supporting or opposing the bill.
Members opposing the bill sought to amend the second reading motion by either referring the bill to a Joint Select Committee for a further inquiry, or to prevent it from being considered again this session of Parliament (known as a ‘This day six months’ amendment). Both proposals were defeated.
The second reading, which is the stage at which members indicate whether there is in principle support for the bill, or not, was ultimately agreed to on 21 August with 26 members voting in favour of the bill and 15 voting against it.
Consideration of amendments in the Legislative Council
Almost the entire days of 17, 18, 19, 24 and 25 September were spent debating and voting on proposed amendments to the bill. Over a 30 hour debate 122 amendments were considered with 25 agreed to.
The following tables provide a brief snapshot of the views of members on the amendments agreed to. These amendments were moved in nine groups according to subject matter. Debate on many of these amendments was lengthy, with many nuanced arguments from those who supported or opposed the amendments. For the full picture read the Hansard transcripts.
Amendments agreed to: 17 to 19 September 2019
Amendments agreed to: 24 and 25 September 2019
* These numbers refer to the amendment sheets on the bill’s webpage.
Following consideration of amendments there was a brief debate on the third reading – the final opportunity for members to state their reasons for supporting or opposing the bill – before it finally passed the House just after 9 pm on Wednesday 25 September (Division: 26 to 14).
Final consideration in the Legislative Assembly
The bill was returned to the Assembly with 25 amendments. These amendments were agreed to by the Assembly the very next day following a brief debate. The bill was then sent to the Governor to become law.
Protest from Council members against the passing of the bill
Also on Thursday 26 September, the Acting President announced that the Clerk had received a protest from 10 Legislative Council members against the passing of the bill. The protest detailed the reasons why the members did not believe the bill should become law.
The protest was recorded in the Legislative Council Minutes of Proceedings (the official record) and a copy was forward to the Governor. For more on protests wait for our Thursday edition of the blog where we explain this process in detail.
The bill becomes an Act
On 2 October 2019 the Governor assented to the bill and it became law.