Female MPs have spoken out on why they can't support proposed legislation recognising a 20-week-old foetus as a living person, amid fears the bill winds back women's rights.
Prompted by the stillbirth of Brodie Donegan's daughter, Zoe, after Mrs Donegan was hit by a car while 36 weeks pregnant, a bill introduced to the NSW Parliament recognises a crime of grievous bodily harm against an unborn child for the first time.
But groups including the Women's Electoral Lobby, Women's Legal Service, Family Planning NSW, and the Rape and Domestic Violence Service have warned the change to the Crimes Act to recognise a foetus as distinct from its mother was a step towards further criminalisation of abortion.
Women using the RU486 abortion drug would be at risk of prosecution because exemptions for medical procedures aren't strong enough, the groups argue. There is also concern the law could be used to bring charges against pregnant women abusing drugs and alcohol, as has occurred in the United States.
NSW Labor MP Helen Westwood said, ''I gave birth at 26 weeks myself, that child lived ... So I absolutely understand the grief and loss parents experience when they lose a baby. But I am absolutely committed to women determining their reproductive rights.''
Ms Westwood was among MPs who met with Mrs Donegan and her local MP, Liberal Chris Spence, after he introduced his private member's bill last week.
The bill will go to a conscience vote next month. ''I have real concerns about the bill as it is now and wouldn't vote for it,'' said Ms Westwood.
Labor MP Carmel Tebbutt said unless the bill is amended, she won't support it.
''Women's access to pregnancy termination is already tightly prescribed in NSW and I would not support legislation that may increase the risk of criminal prosecution for pregnancy termination,'' Ms Tebbutt said.
Labor MP Sophie Cotsis said Mrs Donegan has suffered ''a terrible tragedy'', but is concerned about the effect on other women.
''This bill could have unintended consequences for the ability of NSW women to safely and legally exercise their reproductive rights,'' Ms Cotsis said.
Minister for Women Pru Goward said she was yet to make a decision on how she would vote on the bill but was ''very conscious of both sides of this argument''.
Mr Spence has agreed to meet with the women's groups, but wants the bill passed through the lower house by next month. He said he is prepared to make amendments, but won't back down on recognising an unborn child in law.
''I hear their argument and respect their battles, but this is not an attempt to take them backwards. This is about a pregnancy ended by a criminal act,'' Mr Spence said. The actions of pregnant women are clearly exempted by the bill, he said.
Reverend Fred Nile will sponsor the bill in the upper house.
Chief executive of Family Planning NSW Ann Brassil said: ''We will do everything we can to stop this bill in its current form.''
She said the biggest concern was ''the explicit reference in the bill to the foetus being regarded as a living person''.
The Women's Legal Service, in a letter to MPs, said the bill would ''result in unwanted and invasive scrutiny of individual women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or foetal harm as a result of a criminal act.''
Melanie Fernandez of the Women's Electoral Lobby said the bill was unnecessary because injury to the foetus is already considered grievous bodily harm to its mother under the Crimes Act.
The new bill created problems for young or disabled women accessing abortion, if it was deemed they couldn't properly give consent.
The Australian Medical Association is examining the bill, and opposed a similar attempt to change the law in 2010.