Mum’s 10-year battle for Zoe’s Law to become reality

 

New laws recognising the loss of an unborn child due to a criminal act such as crashing in to a pregnant woman while driving at high speed will be introduced into state parliament following the adoption of the abortion bill.

After the issue being dodged by successive governments for almost a decade, the Berejiklian government has confirmed that it will introduce the controversial legislation - long dubbed Zoe's Law - after the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 has passed.

But in a bid to avoid the proposed laws becoming an extension of the abortion debate, the State government will introduce its own bill rather than adopt one introduced by Christian Democrat MLC Fred Nile.

Brodie Donegan with partner Nick Ball have been campaigning for law changes to recognises unborn babies. Picture: Tim Hunter
Brodie Donegan with partner Nick Ball have been campaigning for law changes to recognises unborn babies. Picture: Tim Hunter

Zoe's Law refers to the unborn daughter of Brodie Donegan, who died at 32 weeks in a car crash involving a drugged driver in 2009.

At the time, there was no offence for taking the life of a pre-term baby.

The driver, Justine Hampson, was sentenced to nine months in jail, but was never charged over Zoe's death due to the absence of a law governing injuries to an unborn child.

Despite mother-of-three Ms Donegan's ongoing campaign for the creation of an offence relating to dangerous driving causing the destruction or serious harm to an unborn child, successive state governments have failed to act.

But government sources say Ms Berejiklian has been consulting both Liberal and National MPs over the past fortnight on the detail of the proposed bill, ahead of it going to Cabinet.

Among the biggest obstacles has been concerns the proposed laws could be used as a legal pathway to prosecute women who injured their unborn children, such as in an abortion.

But with abortion set to be decriminalised, the NSW Attorney-General's office has moved to progress the legislation as promised by Premier Gladys Berejiklian in the lead up to the State election.

The other critical issue is at what age does the death of a foetus death become an offence.

Ms Donegan suggested 20 weeks, given that is when the NSW government recognises a stillborn baby.

Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile.
Christian Democratic Party leader Fred Nile.

Mr Nile's bill follows a series of versions introduced over the years, with the earliest drafts starting at conception - a key reason Ms Donegan wants a new bill.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
 

A conservative Liberal source said it was the expectation of the "majority of MPs" that the bill will involve the death of an unborn child following a wilful act by a third party such as in a domestic violence situation, as well as negligent driving.

"The premier has been in discussion with her colleagues on the bill over the past two weeks," the source said.

In anticipation of an emotional debate, Ms Donegan urged MPs from all parties to come together to support the bill, while appealing to the pro-life movement not to hijack the issue as a platform to continue the abortion debate.

"I would like a co-sponsored bill, one where everybody can air their concerns so we get a bill that everyone is happy with," she said.

"It is tricky legislation but I believe we can get it right," she said. "We don't want this law being used to charge a mother with the death of her own child. This is about the actions of a third party and involving the latter part of pregnancy."

Paramedics treating Ms Donegan after she was hit on Christmas Day at Ourimbah on the Central Coast.
Paramedics treating Ms Donegan after she was hit on Christmas Day at Ourimbah on the Central Coast.


Ms Donegan revealed the family recently moved back to the Ourimbah home where she, her husband Nick Ball and their eldest daughter, now 11, had lived at the time of the crash.

An ultrasound of baby Zoe taken in August 2009.
An ultrasound of baby Zoe taken in August 2009.

However, Ms Donegan, who had two more children after the crash, said their return was temporary with the family planning to move to an acreage "away from cars".

Ms Donegan admitted she is tired of campaigning.

"The woman in my case was charged, but she was charged for what she did to me and it just seems wrong that the death of an eight-month-old baby was not a factor," she said.

A bracelet bearing Zoe’s handprint worn by Brodie Donegan.
A bracelet bearing Zoe’s handprint worn by Brodie Donegan.


Among those to vote for the bill will be Police Minister David Elliott, who indicated support for the laws during the State election.

Justine Hampson arriving at court in 2011 for sentencing.
Justine Hampson arriving at court in 2011 for sentencing.

"A civilised society should always protect victims and the voiceless," he said. "I believe Zoe's Law does both."

Ms Berejiklian flies home today to face a party in disarray despite having urged her brawling ministers to refrain from a public debate about abortion.

The premier is also facing a revolt from Nationals leader John Barilaro, who has floated whether it is time for the Coalition to split.

The threat by Mr Barilaro follows anger within his party over the perceived lack of action by the State government on plans by State-owned Essential Energy to cut 180 regional jobs.

The turmoil last week led to speculation Ms Berejiklian's leadership was in trouble, although senior ministers denied any moves were underfoot.

It is understood some of the anger among conservative MPs against Mr Constance related to his decision to list for debate the abortion bill ahead of Zoe's Law, despite the latter being an election pledge.