(VOA) — A bill to decriminalize abortion in the only Australian state where it has been illegal was enacted by lawmakers in New South Wales Thursday. Supporters say the “historic” legislation is a “massive step forward for women,” but Catholic leaders believe it was a “dark day” for the state of New South Wales.
Following a marathon debate and weeks of protest, abortion is no longer a crime in Australia’s most populous state.
The new law allows terminations at up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, or later if two specialist doctors agree. Critics, including the Catholic Church, believe the legislation is a “defeat for humanity,” but supporters say that women seeking an abortion will no longer be treated like criminals.
The law in New South Wales provoked deep splits within the main political parties that echoed divisions in the community.
Penny Sharpe, an opposition Labor MP, said the measures would protect women.
“None of us are in favor of abortion. It is like saying we are in favor of heart attacks. We just understand that the reality is that it is a medical procedure that needs to be done safely, legally and accessibly,” she said.
However, party colleague Greg Donnelly insisted the law was a terrible mistake.
“Yes, we must talk about women, but what about the unborn? Who is in the unborn’s corner who is about to be terminated through an excruciating procedure?” he said.
Abortion is now legal in every Australian state and territory, although laws vary. Previously, abortions were possible in New South Wales only if a doctor said there was “serious risk” to a woman’s health.
According to government estimates, up to a third of Australian women will choose to terminate a pregnancy and between 65,000 and 80,000 terminations are carried out across Australia each year.