The controversial Zoe’s law bill has sparked a heated and emotional debate in NSW parliament, as MPs weigh up changes that would allow people to be charged with hurting an unborn baby.
The bill, which is being put to a conscience vote, was named in honour of the unborn child of Brodie Donegan, who was hit by a drug-affected driver on Christmas Day in 2009.
The proposed changes amend the law so that a person can be charged with the grievous bodily harm of a foetus that is either 20 weeks or 400 grams by allowing it to be treated as a living person.
It does not apply to anything done with a pregnant woman’s consent or during a medical procedure.
During debate on the bill on Thursday, Labor MP Paul Lynch described aspects of the proposed changes as illogical, “distinctly odd” and flawed.
“No thought seems to have been given to multiple pregnancies,” he told parliament.
“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.”
Opposition Leader John Robertson said he had met with Ms Donegan and was moved by her “unwavering love and dedication to a child she never had the opportunity to know”.
But he said he couldn’t ignore the concerns that doctors, lawyers and women’s groups had raised.
“Legislation can also have unintended consequences, and our duty must always be … to prevent future wrongs to others,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nationals MP Troy Grant argued the bill was necessary for those who had experiences like Ms Donegan.
The father of two became emotional as he described how he was the older brother of twin sisters, one of whom was stillborn due to medical reasons.
“She was buried and I visit her grave in Moree at every opportunity that I can.”
He said it was his understanding that Liberal MP Chris Spence, who introduced the private member’s bill, would be moving an amendment to include medical treatments.
“I am confident this is not a slippery slope as described by the NSW Bar Association,” Mr Grant said.
Women’s groups and the legal profession have raised concerns of the bill’s implications for reproductive rights.
CEO of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, Karen Willis, has urged MPs not to support the bill, saying she could not support a bill that separates a woman from the foetus she is carrying.
Debate on the bill has been adjourned to another time.