Not all pregnant people are women. The law should reflect that.

Submission re Exposure Draft Crimes Legislation (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill 2020

Director, Law Enforcement and Crime

NSW Department of Communities and Justice

GPO Box 31

Sydney NSW 2001

via policy@justice.nsw.gov.au

29 January 2021

To whom it may concern

Not all pregnant people are women.

That fact may be disappointing, even alarming, to some people – including a certain (in)famous children’s author.

But to ignore it is to deny reality, and live in a world that is no less fantasy than the stories in that author’s books.

The law should reflect reality rather than fantasy.

Unfortunately, the Exposure Draft Crimes Legislation (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill 2020 does not adequately engage with the real world in 2021.

Instead, it consistently refers to the people it intends to protect as pregnant women, including in the primary provision which establishes circumstances of aggravation under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), with proposed sub-section 9(1) stating:

‘It is a circumstance of aggravation for an offence against this Act (the relevant offence) if-

(a) the relevant offence is committed against a pregnant woman, and

(b) the act of omission that constitutes the relevant offence causes the destruction of the foetus of the woman.’

This creates at least three potential problems in relation to non-binary people, and trans men, in NSW[i] who are currently or will in the future become pregnant.

First, some people may attempt to argue this wording would therefore mean such aggravation does not apply in relation to the destruction of a foetus of a non-binary person or trans man who was pregnant.

This problem is likely the easiest to overcome, with sub-section 8(1) of the Interpretation Act 1987 (NSW) providing that ‘[i]n any Act or instrument- a word or expression that indicates one or more particular genders shall be taken to indicate every other gender.’

In this situation, woman may consequently be interpreted by courts to also include non-binary people and trans men – although I would appreciate confirmation from the Department of Communities and Justice that this interpretation is correct, and that the foetuses of non-binary people and trans men are not considered less important than the foetuses of women under this proposed law.

The second problem is more difficult to overcome, and that is because the repeated use of the phrase pregnant women – without explicit recognition of the pregnancies of other people – itself reinforces the invisibilisation and marginalisation of those people.

Non-binary people and trans men who are or will in the future become pregnant will see a law that does not include them in its text.

This problem is also very easy to overcome, provided there is sufficient parliamentary support to treat all people equally under the law. That is to simply replace the phrase pregnant woman with pregnant person, both in the title of the legislation and throughout.

The third problem is one that will be created by the Bill for the future.

At some point – whether this year, this term, or later this decade – NSW will hopefully join the majority of Australian jurisdictions in allowing trans and gender diverse people to amend their birth certificates without requiring surgery or other invasive medical procedures beforehand.[ii]

That change would ensure the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW) accepts the existence of all trans and gender diverse people, and therefore of non-binary people and trans men who can become pregnant.

When that reform is finally passed, the already strong case to amend the phrase pregnant woman to pregnant person in the current Bill will become overwhelming.

In my view, it makes absolutely no sense to introduce flawed legislation today knowing both that it does not reflect lived experience now and that it will need to be changed in the not-too-distant future.

I should note at this point that, if the provisions of the Crimes Legislation (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill 2020 were already part of existing law, this would not be the highest priority for reform.

It is clearly far less important than amendments to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act itself, to grant trans and gender diverse people in NSW the right of self-determination over their own gender identity.

And it is far less urgent than stopping the One Nation Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, which would erase a generation of trans and gender diverse students in classrooms across the state.[iii]

Nevertheless, that still does not justify the introduction of a new law that simply entrenches old mistakes, especially when those mistakes can be so easily avoided by substituting one word.

Finally, I have written the above submission as an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. I am also someone who supports the right to choose for people who are pregnant.

I have taken at face value the statements on the Department of Communities and Justice website, and in the Premier and Attorney General’s media release of 10 November 2020,[iv] advising that ‘[t]he proposed amendments do not affect existing laws on abortion.’

If those statements are not accurate, then I defer to the expertise of reproductive rights organisations and support any amendments which are necessary to protect the hard-fought, and hard-won, right to reproductive choice in NSW.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my original point – that the law should reflect reality, not fantasy.

In the real world, there are already, and will be in the future, non-binary people and trans men who are pregnant. The wording of the Crimes Legislation (Offences Against Pregnant Women) Bill 2020 does not reflect this reality. It should be changed.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on this draft legislation. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you require further information.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:


[i] This includes people who have updated their identity documentation to reflect their gender identity in Australian jurisdictions which do not require surgery or other invasive medical procedures beforehand. Of course, it also includes many people in NSW who are currently unable to do so because of the inappropriate and unjustified restrictions in section 32B of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW). However, despite what that law may say, in reality – in their day-to-day lives – these people are not women.

[ii] For more on this issue, see: Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates.

[iii] For more on the serious problems created by that legislation, see: I Stand With Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham.

[iv] ‘Recognising pregnancies lost to criminal acts’.

Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates

This week marked an important milestone on the long march to trans and gender diverse equality in Australia. From 1 May 2020, trans and gender diverse people in Victoria can update their birth certificate and other identity documentation without requiring surgery.

Unfortunately, there are still two Australian jurisdictions that continue to impose this unjustified and unnecessary barrier, as well as a third where the laws also require urgent amendment.

New South Wales

Under section 32B of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995, in order to apply to alter the register to record a change of sex, a person must first have ‘undergone a sex affirmation procedure’, which is defined in section 32A as:

‘a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs carried out:

a) for the purpose of assisting a person to be considered to be a member of the opposite sex, or

b) to correct or eliminate ambiguities relating to the sex of the person.’

The Berejiklian Liberal National Government has given no commitments to fix this appalling provision during the current parliamentary term, with the next election not due until 25 March 2023 (which would represent a dozen years of inaction on this vital reform).

If the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW) is not updated before then, another event in February and March 2023 – Sydney World Pride – will ensure that the Berejiklian Government is rightly subject to significant global criticism.

Queensland

Section 22 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 provides that ‘the reassignment of a person’s sex after sexual reassignment surgery may be noted in the person’s entry in the register of birth.’

The Palaszczuk Labor Government actually engaged in a public consultation process about removing this requirement, releasing the Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families discussion paper more than two years ago.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been much movement on this issue since then, and time is quickly running out, with just five months left of sittings before Parliament is dissolved before the state election scheduled on 31 October 2020.

The clock is ticking for the Palaszczuk Government to fix the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 (Qld) – trans and gender diverse Queenslanders have waited long enough for access to identity documentation that accurately reflects who they are.

Western Australia

The situation is only slightly better in the nation’s West, where section 14 the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 allows people to apply for gender recognition certificates where that person ‘has undergone a reassignment procedure’. Section 3 defines ‘reassignment procedure’ as:

‘a medical or surgical procedure (or a combination of such procedures) to alter the genitals and other gender characteristics of a person, identified by a birth certificate as male or female, so that the person will be identified as a person of the opposite sex and includes, in relation to a child, any such procedure (or combination of procedures) to correct or eliminate ambiguities in the child’s gender characteristics.’

Fortunately, following a decision of the High Court in AB v Western Australia; AH v Western Australia [2011] HCA 42 6 October 2011, this has been interpreted such that genital surgery is not required. However, physical medical treatment, such as hormone therapy, remains a pre-requisite to access a new birth certificate in Western Australia.

These issues were examined in the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s 2018 Report: Review of Western Australian legislation in relation to the registration or change of a person’s sex and/or gender and status relating to sex characteristics, which recommended that applications for change of gender involve a simple administrative process, including a statutory declaration, with no requirement for surgical or other medical treatment.

With less than 12 months left before the next state election, due on 13 March 2021, the pressure is on the McGowan Labor Government to implement these reforms.

South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory

These three jurisdictions have abolished the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to have surgery, or other physical medical interventions, in order to access updated birth certificates and identity documentation.

However, they do still require doctors or other health practitioners, such as counsellors or psychologists, to approve such applications, which remains inappropriate medicalisation of people’s gender identities, that should instead be based on self-identification.

Section 29L of South Australia’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 provides that ‘if the Registrar is satisfied that the applicant has undertaken a sufficient amount of appropriate clinical treatment in relation to their sex or gender identity, the Registrar may make an entry about the change of the person’s sex or gender identity in the Register…’, with section 29H clarifying that ‘clinical treatment need not involve invasive medical treatment (and may include or be constituted by counselling).’

Likewise, section 24 of the Australian Capital Territory’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration 1997 provides that a person applying to have the register amended to reflect a change of sex must have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment for alteration of the person’s sex’. Clinical treatment is not further defined, meaning it does not explicitly require surgical intervention.

The Northern Territory has also adopted a similar approach, with section 28B of their Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act providing that trans and gender diverse people can update their birth certificates if they can show that they have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment in relation to the adult’s sex or gender’.

It is positive that each of South Australia, the ACT and NT have removed the requirement for surgery or other physical medical interventions. However, in order to reflect the self-determination of trans and gender diverse people, they should still amend their laws to remove the role of health practitioners as ‘gate-keepers’ of their identity.

Victoria

As indicated above, Victoria’s new birth certificate reforms mean trans and gender diverse Victorians can update their identity documentation without having surgery or other physical medical interventions.

Importantly, these changes, which were introduced by the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2019 (Vic), also mean that trans and gender diverse people do not need approval from doctors or other health practitioners, such as counsellors or psychologists. Their role as ‘gate-keepers’ is over.

However, there is one requirement which fails the principle of complete ‘self-identification’. That’s because section 30A of the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 requires adults to submit a ‘supporting statement’ made by a person who is aged 18 years or over and who has known the applicant for at least 12 months and state that the person making the supporting statement:

  • believes that the applicant makes the application to alter the record of their sex in good faith, and
  • supports the application.

This second requirement in particular (that another person must ‘support’ the application of a trans or gender diverse person for a new birth certificate) is unnecessary, and is the reason why Victoria’s new scheme, while a massive improvement from the previous regime, falls short of Australian best practice.

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 8.08.02 am

Ideally, access to accurate identity documentation for trans and gender diverse people should not depend on whether another person ‘supports’ their application.

Tasmania

That honour belongs to Tasmania’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. Following amendments earlier last year, it allows trans and gender diverse Tasmanians (aged over 16) to self-determine their own gender identity.

Without the need for surgery or other physical medical interventions. Without the need for medical approval. And based solely on self-identification.

When NSW, Queensland and Western Australia finally bring their own birth certificate laws into the 21st century, it is the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999 (Tas) they should be emulating.

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This article is part of a series. Find other ‘Did You Know?’ posts here.

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