Lawmakers in the Australian province of New South Wales on Thursday voted to legalize all abortions performed up to 22 weeks into pregnancy.
The vote overturned a 119-year-old law that permitted a woman to receive an abortion only if her doctors certified that she her physical or mental health would seriously suffer if she carried her baby to term. Under the law, an abortion performed without such certification was considered unlawful, and punishable by up to ten years in prison. Under the new law, women will not be required to prove that their health is in danger in order to obtain an abortion in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy. For abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, women will need the approval of two medical specialists.
New South Wales is the most populous province in Australia, and is home to the city of Sydney. After Thursday’s vote, the only remaining province in the country that effectively criminalizes abortions is South Australia, which is currently reviewing its abortion laws.
The Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, slammed the new law, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it “may be the worst law passed in New South Wales in modern times, because it represents such a dramatic abdication of responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of our community,” and describing it as “a defeat for humanity.”
Meanwhile, Labor MP Penny Sharpe, who co-sponsored the law, said it represented “a massive step forward for women in [New South Wales].”