Sixty groups join pro-choice alliance to campaign for NSW abortion law reform | World news

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Pregnant women whose babies are diagnosed with terminal illnesses or grow with organs outside their bodies are having to plead for abortions to medical panels because of archaic New South Wales laws that continue to criminalise abortion.

It’s a situation the Women’s Electoral Lobby and a new alliance of 60 organisations are trying to end, launching a new campaign for law reform on Thursday.

NSW is the only Australian state or territory that has neglected to modernise abortion laws. Last year Queensland’s parliament voted to legalise abortion and erase a 119-year-old “morality” section of the state’s criminal code.

Domestic Violence NSW, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Family Planning NSW are among organisations that have signed up to be a part of the pro-choice alliance.

The campaign manager, Sinead Canning, said in some cases NSW women were being forced to travel over the border to access legal terminations.

“Every single day there are women travelling interstate because they have been turned away in their local areas,” she said. “They have to leave their support systems, leave their family, take time off work, pay for accommodation – there are huge out-of-pocket costs.”

In cases where a woman with a wanted pregnancy is seeking an abortion because medical advice says the foetus is not viable, the process of obtaining a termination can be unnecessarily drawn out and traumatic, Canning said.

“You’re not actually covered at all if your baby has a fatal diagnosis … case law only covers you if there’s a threat to the woman’s physical or mental health,” she said.

“Under the system at the moment where women are in these devastating situations … they choose to terminate and then are told by their doctors it’s actually illegal so they’ll have to stand in front of a panel of doctors and administrators.”

Canning said there could be up to a two-week wait to testify in front of the hospital committees which she likened to “star chambers”.

“[In the meantime] you have women who are 20 weeks pregnant walking around and random people in public touching their stomaches saying, ‘How long until you’re due?’… it’s unbelievably cruel to women,” she said.

Prosecutions are rare but the threat remains. The last one was 2017 when a woman bought abortion drugs online.

The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is pro-choice and has said she is “open-minded” on reform but in March said her government had no plans to amend the relevant sections of the Crimes Act.

While pro-choice campaigners are confident they can get the numbers in state parliament, it could be an uphill battle winning support. Female MPs make up 35% of the legislative assembly and 26% of the upper house.

Canning said NSW medical students were also missing out on valuable training in the area of terminations because of the legality issue.

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