Critics dismiss proposed amendments to Zoe's Law

Friday 20 September 2013 @ 9.47 a.m. | Crime

Liberal MP Chris Spence's proposed amendments of his controversial Zoe's Law Bill (Crimes Amendment (Zoe's Law) Bill (No. 2) 2013) have been dismissed by doctors and women's groups, who say it does nothing to address their concerns about the impact of the bill on abortion rights in NSW.

MPs have been given a conscience vote on the bill, which states that a foetus of 20 weeks, or weighing more than 400 grams, is to be regarded as a living person under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). If passed, the bill will allow charges of grievous bodily harm to be brought if a foetus is harmed from a criminal act.

The amendment inserts an exemption for "medical treatments", in addition to the existing exemptions for medical procedures and anything done with the consent of the woman.

However, Anne Brassil, chief executive of Family Planning NSW has said that :

"the most critical issue for us is the words 'living person', giving personhood to a foetus. It is a dramatic change. It opens the door to a whole range of unintended consequences. This is not simply an abortion debate."

Ms Brassil and other women's groups met with Mr Spence on Tuesday, but were unable to reach any agreement on amendments that would reduce the bill's impact on women's reproductive rights.

Australian Medical Association NSW chief executive Fiona Davies has also said Mr Spence's amendment isn't good enough.

"Our most significant concern is that this is an incredibly important, incredibly complex area of law that was previously the subject of reviews and shouldn't be subject to an individual wanting to make changes along the way."

In 2010, the Campbell Review examined the issues and found that introducing a criminal offence against an unborn child would gradually change the way the foetus is regarded. It concluded that existing laws were sufficient. The Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) currently recognises grevious bodily harm to a woman if her foetus is harmed in a criminal act.

The NSW Bar Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists oppose the bill.

During debate in Parliament on Thursday, Labor MP Paul Lynch labelled the proposed changes as illogical and flawed.

"No thought seems to have been given to multiple pregnancies," he said. "One foetus could weigh 410 grams and its twin 390 grams, which means if they were in these circumstances they would be treated differently - a result that seems quite wrong."

The bill was introduced in the Lower House on 29 August 2013 however debate on the bill has been adjourned to another sitting time.

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