12 November 2018
Statement: Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2017
From our inception WEL has consistently advocated for laws which promote the health, dignity and freedom of women, including the freedom to decide what happens to our bodies. The Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2017 will impede women’s freedom to make reproductive health choices in consultation with health practitioners.
We understand the desire of our elected representatives to respond to tragic events in our community. MPs can genuinely try to devise legislative measures to assuage the suffering of individuals who are victims of violence from attacks or reckless actions.
Members of Parliament also need to know the larger consequences and risks of such legislation. We need to trust you to vote with the knowledge of potentially harmful consequences and ensure that these are not outweighed by the intended emotional impact of the measures.
WEL believes that the possible harmful consequences for NSW women of the Crimes Amendment (Zoë’s Law) Bill 2017 far outweigh any consolation offered to the anguished women and parents who have lost a fetus as the result of the malicious or reckless act of another person.
We urge MPs to take heed of the Honorable Michael Campbell QC’s 2010 ‘Review of Laws Surrounding the Criminal Incidents Involving the Death of an Unborn Child’. Campbell concludes that ‘current offences do allow the justice system to respond appropriately’ and that present maximum penalties and non-parole periods are considered appropriate’ (p3).
WEL’s concerns about the Bill are driven by evidence from experts and from the deep experience, compassion and advice of dedicated professionals who have served the medical and health needs of women across NSW for many decades.
The NSW Bar Association and the NSW Law Society have advised that the Bill’s introduction of the concept of ‘fetal personhood’, or what the Bill itself terms ‘child in utero’, would impede the already tenuous reproductive freedom of women in NSW. The implied rights of the fetus would be set against those of the pregnant woman. Suggested amendments which place emphasis on ‘the fetus of the pregnant women’ will not remove the danger that a woman could potentially be found responsible for injury or death of a fetus for which a separate offence and penalty would apply.
Members of Parliament know that retention of abortion in the NSW Crimes Act already constrains women’s capacity to make decisions on their reproductive health and to a much greater extent than in other states and territories. If enacted, this Bill would mark a retrograde step for women’s reproductive rights in NSW.
Furthermore the centrality of the concept of ‘fetal personhood’ to the Bill (under the guise of ‘child in utero’ or indeed an offence related to harm to the ‘fetus of the pregnant woman’) carries serious implications of risk for the professional decisions and actions of doctors, nurses, midwives and other health care practitioners.
Finally, WEL urges MPs to heed the grave concerns about the Bill expressed by a broad coalition of women’s services organisations, working every day on the front line to support women across NSW. The considered advice arising from the long experience and field expertise of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the eighteen Women’s Health Centres under the umbrella of Women’s Health NSW, Family Planning NSW and NSW Women’s Legal Service should carry great weight in MPs consideration. If the Bill comes to a vote we urge you to oppose it.
Convenor WEL NSW
*Established in 1972, WEL is an independent, non-party political lobby group dedicated to creating a society where women’s participation and their ability to fulfill their potential are unrestricted, acknowledged and respected and where women and men share equally in society’s responsibilities and rewards.