Churches and anti-abortion groups have swung into action before legislation that would remove abortion from New South Wales' Crimes Act is debated in the state's parliament.
One of the bills, which could be debated as early as next week, was introduced by NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi. It removes the procedure from the state's Crimes Act and establishes safe access zones around hospitals and clinics where abortion is provided.
It also requires doctors who conscientiously object to abortion to refer a patient to another doctor who doesn't.
A separate bill introduced last month by NSW Labor MP Penny Sharpe aims to create "safe access zones" around clinics to protect patients and staff, but leaves the legal status of abortion unchanged.
Women entering reproductive health clinics in the state have been filmed, approached by anti-abortion protesters and asked to reconsider the termination of pregnancy, handed plastic foetuses and shown disturbing images.
The Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney have echoed arguments made by Queensland-based religious organisations – which centred around later term abortions – during a debate over legislation to decriminalise abortion in the Sunshine State.
The lobby's NSW director Mark Makowiecki wrote on the ACL's website that Faruqi's bill would "permit abortion till birth, remove the conscience rights of doctors, and prevent prayer vigils and sidewalk counselling near abortion clinics".
"These bills are every bit as bad as Victoria’s abortion laws, which you and I know are the worst in Australia," Makowiecki wrote.
Abortion was decriminalised in Victoria in 2008.
Anti-abortion MPs in Queensland include state politician Fiona Simpson who said descriminalisation legislation would legalise “the killing of unborn children up until the point of birth”.
Billboards erected by Queensland lobby group Cherish Life also reaffirmed the myth that later term abortions are common, or make up a significant portion of terminations, in Australia.
According to the most recent figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 0.7% of abortions were carried out at or after 20 weeks. Most (94.6%) abortions in Australia take place before 13 weeks of gestation.
Legislation to decriminalise abortion was withdrawn from Queensland's parliament in February after every single member of that state's Liberal National opposition vowed to vote against it.
Farqui said it was "disappointing but not entirely surprising" that the lobby was running a "scare campaign on abortion law reform based on inaccurate information".
"The fact is that a similar law is in place in the ACT and there is no evidence of any increase in late term abortions," Faruqi told BuzzFeed News. "We know that late term abortions are extremely rare and usually relate to severe foetal abnormality. To play politics with such a sensitive issue is disgusting."
On the issue of conscientious objection, she said: "The bill does not force doctors to do anything they don't want to. It just requires doctors who have a conscientious objection to refer the patient to another doctor or health centre who they know doesn’t have the same objection."
The Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher today called on Catholics in NSW to take "urgent action to protect human life in the state".
"[The law] would make abortion legal, right up until the moment of birth," Bishop said.
Fisher last month led a prayer procession on the "Day of the Unborn Child" through Sydney's CBD.
Petitions to oppose Faruqi's laws will be available in all parishes across Sydney this weekend, he said.
Polling by the Greens Party found a woman's right to choose had "overwhelming support" in the community, with 70% of Sydneysiders supporting decriminalisation and 87% supporting safe access zones.
Gina Rushton is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Gina Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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