The killing of unborn children will now be considered a standalone offence as the Australian justice system takes a step closer to recognising the life of an unborn baby.
The New South Wales (NSW) parliament has passed a law as the first jurisdiction in Australia, proposing that a foetus is separate from the mother, and causing its death is a discrete criminal offence.
The Crimes Amendment Bill, also known as Zoe’s Law, is named after the daughter of Brodie Donegan, an NSW woman who was hit by a drunk driver on Christmas Day in 2009 and lost her unborn daughter eight months into her pregnancy.
The new law will propose tougher penalties for criminals convicted of injuring pregnant women.
Punishment for killing a foetus will range from five to 28 years in jail, and if both the mother and the baby are killed, the sentence can be extended by three years to recognise the unborn child.
The charges can be brought once the baby has reached 20 weeks gestation or weighs 400g.
As this law was not previously available, the driver could not be charged over the death of Donegan’s baby and was sentenced to merely nine months imprisonment. The death of Zoe was classified as just another one of the mother’s injuries.
It has taken over a decade of campaigning by the Donegan family, but the Bill will finally come into force next year.
One of the reasons the Bill has taken so long is due to lobbying from pro-choice groups, according to Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
Government-funded Women’s Legal Service NSW (WLS) views the Bill as a threat to women’s rights as it is concerned that treating the foetus as a legal person may affect the legality of abortions.
“Until the foetus achieves an independent existence, it must not be granted legal personhood in its own right,” WLS wrote in a statement on March 16.
“WLS is concerned that giving personhood status to a foetus may affect the lawfulness and accessibility of abortion in NSW, particularly for procedures carried out later in a pregnancy.”
However, the Attorney General assures that Zoe’s law “does not in any way affect a woman’s ability to obtain a lawful abortion under existing NSW legislation.”