NSW's controversial "Zoe's law" bill will open the door to
women being prosecuted for smoking or drinking during
pregnancy, protesters fear.
The legislative changes currently before the state's upper
house would make it a criminal offence to destroy or harm a
foetus after it reaches 20 weeks or 400 grams.
The bill was named in honour of the unborn child of Brodie
Donegan, who was hit by a drug-affected driver on Christmas
Day in 2009
Zoe was stillborn.
But Ms Donegan was the only victim recognised under current
NSW law, which does not grant a foetus personhood.
About 200 people gathered in Sydney's Martin Place on Sunday
were urged to write to members of the NSW Legislative Council
before the bill is voted on in the upper house by the end of
A Sydney University obstetrics expert, Kirsten Black, told
protesters she was concerned a mother-to-be who refused to
undergo a procedure - for instance, a woman whose baby was
presenting in the breech position but did not want to undergo
a caesarean section - would be open to prosecution.
"This is not far-fetched. A Utah woman was charged with
murder when she refused to undergo a caesarean section for
her twins, and one died at birth," Dr Black said.
And she feared the proposed bill would pave the way for
prosecutions aimed at woman who failed to follow medical
advice throughout their pregnancy.
"I worry that this bill could open up the possibility of
women being prosecuted for drinking, smoking and taking drugs
during their pregnancy," Dr Black said.
"Whilst medical practitioners would urge women to make
informed choices during pregnancy in the best interests of
both their own health and that of their offspring, few if any
would support a legal compulsion to follow medical advice."
The bill includes provisions designed to protect pregnant
women, medical practitioners from prosecution and preserve
But Julie Hamblin, a lawyer who specialises in health, told
the crowd she was not convinced these provisions would be
"The people who support Zoe's Law will say, correctly, that
the bill has an exemption for medical procedures and it has
an exemption for things done by or with the consent of the
woman - so they argue that doesn't affect abortion," she
"As a lawyer, I simply don't believe that's true."