- Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne’s amended Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill passed the lower house 13 votes to 11 in April.
- After a big day of briefings in June, the Tasmanian Upper House voted overwhelmingly in favour of sending the bill to a standing committee. The committee heard evidence from stakeholders and then tabled a report detailing their findings on November 13.
- Debate on the bill in the upper house is expected to commence on Tuesday, 19 November in the last official sitting week of the year.
The amended bill
- Under the amended bill there will be unrestricted abortion up to 16 weeks gestation. Post-16-weeks two doctors will need to sign off on the abortion. They are able to justify abortion if the baby would negatively impact the mother’s physical or mental state in regards to her current or future socio-economic status. Doctors will be compelled to refer a woman to an abortion provider, or face professional sanctions. Counsellors who do not refer will face a possible $32,500 fine. People involved in protests, including silent, prayerful protests within 150m of an abortion facility (e.g. on the steps of a nearby church) can be fined up to $32,500 and/or face one year in jail.
- Despite a very short consultation period, over 2000 submissions were received with 87% of respondents being opposed to abortion. Clearly these submissions have not been reviewed and hence the public are not adequately being listened to.
- There is no legitimate mandate for such a move – first trimester abortions (which encompass 95% of abortions) are currently available and accessible in the state – there are no waiting lists or referrals, and there have been no prosecutions.
The upper house report
Essentially the report summarised what evidence was received during the inquiry. Sadly there is not much in the report to be positive about. The report:
- Agrees with the clause allowing for the suppression of free speech through incarceration for those protesting outside abortion clinics, even when doing so in a respectful way.
- Gives apparent justification for abortion for social and economic reasons, which, polling suggests, is out of step with community sentiment.
- Gives apparent support for compelling doctors and counsellors with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer patients to those without such an objection. This includes penalties for dissenters. NB: The report does acknowledge fines stipulated in the bill for non-complying counsellors are excessive. In reality no one should be penalised for doing something in good conscience.
- Fails to give assurances that mothers would receive independent, truly informed consent about any implications of having an abortion.
There is a positive aspect to the report – in a roundabout way. There are no definitive findings that suggest removing abortion from the criminal code is a good idea or even necessary.
A bit of background
Polling shows that most Australians are uncomfortable with Australia’s high rate of abortion, estimated at an alarming 90,000 per year. Women and their partners who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy need support and independent counselling
Recent polling shows that most Tasmanians are opposed to abortion for the reasons most abortions are performed.
Read some abortion facts from Emily's Voice.
Some sobering facts from Victoria
In 2009 there were 410 post-20-week abortions performed. Of these, 210 were performed on physically healthy babies, with 10 of these undertaken after 28 weeks, a time when these babies could have been safely delivered alive and the psychosocial concerns of their mothers addressed.
Source: 2009 Annual Report of the Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity
“Over a ten year period from 1999 – 2009 late term abortions in Victoria grew from 66 to 410 per year, with more than half of these being undertaken for psychosocial reasons in every year since 2004 (2007 being an exception). The 2009 figures show an even more disturbing increase, that is the number of very late term abortions on healthy, viable babies for maternal psychosocial reasons.”
Source: Real Choices Australia
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Some of the key provisions that are of concern in the bill include:
- No legitimate mandate to remove abortion from the criminal code i.e. it is not just another operation, another life is at stake.
- No acknowledgment of the existence, or rights of, the unborn child.
- Lack of safeguards for women to ensure 1. truly informed consent obtained, 2. independent advice given, and 3. lack of coercion in decision making.
- The subjectivity of doctors’ need to consider current and future economic and social circumstances of women they are assessing.
- Freedom of conscience issues – compulsion of doctors and counsellors to refer.
- Freedom of speech issues – prosecution of protestors.