A second female cabinet minister has said she will vote against a controversial bill seeking to recognise a 20-week-old foetus as a living person, as the issue divides the NSW government and reignites the abortion debate.
Environment Minister Robyn Parker and Nationals whip John Williams have told Fairfax they will vote against Zoe's Law 2, which is expected to be debated in the NSW Parliament this Thursday.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) has strongly condemned the private member's bill, introduced by Liberal Chris Spence. Pregnant women who ignore their doctor's advice on birth choices, or older mothers who face life-threatening pre-eclampsia, could face serious consequences as a result of the proposed legal change, the obstetrician group has warned.
Health Minister Jillian Skinner came out against the bill last week, after the Australian Medical Association and the NSW Bar Association wrote to MPs raising concerns about its implications, particularly for women wanting abortions.
But Attorney-General Greg Smith, the former president of anti-abortion group Right to Life, claimed this was ''a false suggestion aimed at creating fear''.
Mr Smith is lobbying conservative MPs to back Zoe's Law. Women's groups have accused him of being ''out of step with mainstream society'' and ideologically driven.
Mr Spence said the Attorney-General's Department had assisted him in drafting the legislation, but Mr Smith was not directly involved.
The bill will recognise a foetus as a living person under the Crimes Act, so charges of grievous bodily harm to the unborn child can be laid for a criminal act, including dangerous driving. The present law recognises grievous bodily harm to the mother if her foetus is harmed.
Mr Spence's bill was prompted by his constituent Brodie Donegan losing her daughter Zoe while 32 weeks pregnant, after she was hit by a car driven by a drug-affected driver.
Ms Parker said: ''I acknowledge the horrific circumstances that this bill has been drafted in response to … but I am deeply concerned about the potential unintended consequences.'' She said the bill would ''significantly change NSW law''.
Nationals MP Mr Williams, the member for Murray-Darling, said after talking to women's groups he had become aware of serious consequences of the legislation, and would not support it.
He said some Nationals MPs were considering abstaining.
The president of RANZCOG, Michael Permezel, warned that the bill was ''a huge step backwards''. Overseas, similar laws had led to legal action being taken against women for decisions they made during pregnancy.
Mr Spence said he believed the vote in the lower house would be tight, and that he would meet women's groups again to consider amendments. However, both parties have said it is unlikely they could reach agreement.
Anti-abortion campaigner Fred Nile will sponsor the bill in the upper house, if it reaches that stage.