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NSW’s abortion reforms are a win for advocacy

30 September 2019 at 4:59 pm
Maggie Coggan
Cross-sector collaboration and making the campaign personable were key to the successful push to decriminalise abortion in NSW, a campaign leader says. 

Maggie Coggan | 30 September 2019 at 4:59 pm


NSW’s abortion reforms are a win for advocacy
30 September 2019 at 4:59 pm

Cross-sector collaboration and making the campaign personable were key to the successful push to decriminalise abortion in NSW, a campaign leader says.  

Sinead Canning, the campaign manager of the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance, told Pro Bono News the concerted efforts of the 70 legal, health and community groups behind the alliance were “instrumental” in seeing NSW’s abortion laws overturned on Thursday.         

Bringing together groups such as the Human Rights Law Centre, the New South Wales Council of Social Services, the Women’s Electoral Lobby and Domestic Violence NSW, the alliance was the largest collaborative effort on the issue to date. 

Canning, who also led the successful 2018 campaign to decriminalise abortion in Queensland, put the campaign’s success down to how effectively the organisations worked together to overcome the various challenges thrown at them.  

This included 100-plus amendments to the legislation that were discussed in the NSW upper house for nearly 40 hours.  

The legislation passed with amendments including that doctors must provide care to babies born alive after an attempted termination. 

One of the most controversial proposed amendments – labelled “racist” by critics – sought to ban abortions for the purpose of sex selection, but this was voted down in the upper house.

Canning said navigating the amendments was a major challenge of the campaign.   

“It was incumbent upon us essentially to figure out if those compromises would actually work in practice and not put in place any additional barriers to access for women,” she said.  

She said while many believed abortion reform in the state was only a matter of time, with NSW being one of the last states to remove it from its Crimes Act, it often didn’t feel that way.  

“The fact that every other state has updated its legislation pertaining to pregnancy terminations meant people would also just say it was inevitable,” she said.  

“But there were quite a few times throughout the campaign where it didn’t feel inevitable.” 

She said one of her biggest learnings in both campaigns was that people’s politics were fluid, and the party they belonged to was often not the most important factor.   

“You might paint someone with one particular brush, but the reality is so much more nuanced than the first impression,” she said.  

“Some of the greatest champions of abortion access were the National MPs and in the lower house it was members of the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party.  

“I believe that is a testament to how they represent their constituents…and that they can appreciate the fact that women in regional and remote parts of the state are the ones that were most affected by abortion remaining in the Crimes Act.” 

She added that for other advocacy issues such as government action on climate change, a rethink may be needed on how it is presented to those in power. 

“As the progressive movement goes on, I think they really need to consider how they present issues to the public and to decision makers, because so far it hasn’t been that effective,” she said.

“Starting with the building of a strong, diverse coalition and coming up with a campaign that relates to people’s day-to-day lives are some of the more effective ways to create change.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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