Thousands of people protesting against the legalisation of abortion on demand in NSW filled Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD to overflowing last Tuesday evening, hours after the NSW Premier recapitulated on the abortion bill.
The crowd was so large, security was forced to create a passage for pedestrians to pass through.
The protest kicked off as NSW Minister for Finance, Damien Tudehope, gave an impassioned pro life speech in defence of the unborn in the upper house.
He later joined the crowd, estimated at 3000-5000 strong according to police and organiser’s estimates, to urge them to “maintain the rage,” adding “we cannot allow this bill to pass the parliament.
“I urge you all to maintain the level of support for the people you are here on behalf of today.
“You must remain solid with us throughout this debate in the upper house.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the announcement after a fraught cabinet meeting where she faced anger from colleagues concerned at the rushing of the bill through parliament without due process and as a petition urging MPs to reject it reached more than 77,000 signatures. The decision means the legislation will not be voted on until the next sitting week of Parliament which commences on 17 September.
Numerous political, civic and religious leaders addressed the protesters.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP joined the Melkite, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Antiochan Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic bishops who addressed the crowd which included many families and young people.
He thanked the protesters for fasting, praying, and lobbying politicians in recent weeks and encouraged them to continue to stand up “for life and for love”.
“This bill is a shameful ‘kill bill’,” Archbishop Fisher said. “And that people were ashamed of this bill is evident in the fact that they did not want any public discussion or debate or even for the parliamentarians to have their say.
“We can convince our leaders to build a civilisation of life and love.
“We love every human being from the beginning to end and everything in between.”
The temporary reprieve allows greater time for the drafting of amendments to the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019.
In another win for life, the Premier said that she would not allow any further conscience votes in this term of government, meaning that the state will not see an assisted suicide bill before 2023, assuming the government runs until then.
Prior to the premier’s announcement, there were grave concerns the bill, one of the world’s most extreme, would be debated and passed into law by this weekend.
Government MLA Tanya Davies, who has faced death threats after attempting to secure amendments which would protect babies who survived abortion, and to outlaw sex selection abortions, was one of several politicians to speak, calling for a “tsunami of opposition” to the bill.
“Today we’ve had a stay of execution,” she said.
“We now have three weeks to garner and galvanise all of our voices in unison calling for the bill to be ditched.
“Nothing less will satisfy our community of NSW, not just the babies, but the mothers, their families and those professionals who are faced with this every single day.
“You are citizens of NSW with equal say in this debate yet your voices have been excluded.”
The Nationals federal member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, told the crowd that logic demanded that the unborn have a right to life.
“I’m not here to espouse a religion or to say I’m some saint, I’m here because I’m trying to argue on logic,” he said.
“It is ridiculous to think that at an arbitrary time of three months a person who can be born at any time after three months can be killed.
“The logic that a child up to the day it’s born doesn’t have any rights, means nobody has any rights.”
The protest was the largest pro-life rally seen in Sydney in decades, reflecting – in part – anger at the way that pro-life MPs say they were blindsided by the introduction of the bill on 1 August.
This was followed, they said, by inadequate time for debate and community consultation, and a mere two days allowed for an inquiry by the upper house. At one point the crowd observed a minute’s silence before a live heart beat was played of the 26-week-old unborn child of Sydney couple Chantal and Piotr Czeczotko.
The evening concluded with a prayer vigil at St Mary’s Cathedral ending at midnight.
“The pro-life community in NSW are very motivated right now and we will not let up until we win,” said Rachel Carling, CEO of Right to Life NSW, who said she did not put any stock in Premier Berejiklian’s sudden backflip.
“The Premier would like us to take the heat out of the abortion debate by delaying it for three weeks, but that’s just not going to happen.”
On 14 August, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP appeared alongside fellow religious leaders at the upper house inquiry to argue their case.
The Archbishop, who lodged a 16-page formal submission to the inquiry co-signed by all the NSW Catholic bishops, said he believed it should be rejected outright, and if that was not possible that it should at least be substantially improved, for example to protect medical professionals with a conscientious objection.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich, who introduced the bill, said it should be passed without delay.
“This reform is long overdue and it’s now incumbent on the upper house to pass the bill as soon as possible,” he said.