Media Releases

Media Releases

06.8.2019 Australian Laws – How do we know the ones to ignore?


We have a funny legal system in Australia. Most of us have broken some laws but we don’t look over our shoulder every minute of the day worrying about the long arm of the law. Some of us are even breaking laws on a daily basis.

If you live in Victoria and you have ever changed a light bulb, unless you are a licensed electrician, you have just broken the law. Staying in Victoria, if you fly a kite or play a game in a public place ‘to the annoyance of another person’ than you have committed an offence. I wonder if I can get my kids arrested at the park when they annoy me? Walked on the right-hand side of the footpath? Annoying? Yes! Illegal? Apparently yes as well!  My Mum broke the law more times than I could count. She would always leave the keys in her car because she trusted people. Unfortunately, that is illegal along with leaving windows wound down more than five centimetres when the car is unattended.

Paying for your food or coffee at the drive through window using your smartphone is illegal and can cost you points on your license. The Police could have a field day parked at any fast food outlet in Australia! When your kids first learn to say ‘Look Mum, no hands’ as they ride their bikes with no hands, they have also committed their first illegal act.

The list goes on. Don’t even get me started on halfbacks breaking the rules of the NRL when they feed a scrum – and the referee is standing right beside them!

Luckily we have humans - not robots - working in the police departments around the country and they can use their discretion when they see a crime committed that seems a little archaic or silly.

But should that be the case? If I was booked after a police radar caught me driving at 101 kilometres per hour, it would be a story at the pub about what a terrible person the officer was. I was just over! But I was still over. On a lucky day, I might get away with ten or even fifteen over the limit but I could technically still be booked for driving at 101.

This is the current situation we find ourselves in with abortion in NSW. The current debate raging in our Parliament was started by an Independent politician who saw that the law and the practice were vastly different. Alex Greenwich introduced the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 to Parliament to provide clarity around this emotional issue.

We have heard the discussions that have been occurring. Abortion is illegal in NSW. Yet there are approximately 25,000 abortions performed every single year in this State. How is that possible, I hear you ask. In this century there has only been one case of a person in NSW being convicted for a crime related to abortion. If the ‘crime’ is committed 25,000 times a year, surely we would see more arrests?

Well, despite the fact that an unlawful abortion has been a criminal offence since 1900, you can have a lawful abortion if a doctor believes that your physical or mental health is in serious danger by continuing the pregnancy. That serious danger can be any economic, social or medical reason.

So, despite the fact that abortion is listed under the Crimes Act, the reality is that every abortion performed in NSW would have a doctor saying that it was necessary to preserve the woman from serious danger.

The everyday practice seems to be somewhat at odds with the intent of the law – hence the sensible approach to make the law clear for everyone.

I am not saying which side of the debate I sit on but there have been some interesting discussions around the exact timing for an abortion.

I will start with a basic assumption. I will assume that everyone would agree that killing a baby one millisecond after birth would be murder and one millisecond before conception I will assume we all agree that no human exists.

A large part of the debate then seems to have focused on when, during that nine months, it is acceptable to have an abortion.

If I go back just a few years, Aristotle postulated that an embryo gained a human soul at forty days for males and ninety days for females. Before that point, Aristotle believed the embryo did not have a human soul so presumably abortion was acceptable before those points and no, I also don’t understand why a female took so much longer to gain a human soul.

Many of the discussions focus on the first trimester of the pregnancy. If we look at statistics from South Australia, ninety-one per cent of all abortions happened in the first fourteen weeks. Another train of thought discusses abortions up to twenty-two weeks. Again using South Australia as an example, just over two per cent of abortions occurred after twenty weeks. Other arguments talk about the time when a baby has a heartbeat being the cut-off – but this is incredibly early in the pregnancy – usually around eight weeks. I imagine that this particular aspect of abortion will consume many of the discussions. After conception and before birth gives a range of possibilities and there is no obvious answer for any particular point in time. When can we say for certain that a human exists along that timeline?

Those arguing against abortion say that a human exists at the moment of conception and the law needs to stand up for the unborn child who has no voice. But what if that birth brings a child into a world of abject poverty or into a broken marriage or the pregnancy was as a result of a rape? I am not trying to answer these questions but merely pose them as thinking points. When debate and arguments become very emotional and heated in both directions, it is vital that those putting their views forward can also see there are other points of view. Many in fact.

I have even heard it said that the legalisation of abortion will lead to a more promiscuous society with no care for pregnancies because abortions can easily be obtained but with our myriad of options for contraception I can’t see legalisation suddenly spurring us into a rampant sex society.

You will no doubt have your view on the entire debate but I congratulate Independent Alex Greenwich for bringing this debate forward and for the sake of consistency, allow the laws of the State to be determined and then enforced – whatever the final decision is.

Mathew Dickerson