Abortion crime vote bidAs it points out, only three jurisdictions in Australia have fully decriminalised abortion - Western Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. In the rest of the nation, unrestricted access to abortion relies on laws much like Victoria's common law ruling that abortion is permitted if it is considered that the pregnancy threatens the woman's life or health.
By Jason Dowling, State Politics
April 30, 2006
LATE-TERM abortion could be removed from the Crimes Act and placed under the Health Act if the Bracks Government is re-elected.
The Government is believed to be considering a conscience vote on abortion law if re-elected.
Labor's election platform calls for the Crimes Act to be amended to ensure that "no abortion be criminal when performed by a legally qualified medical practitioner at the request of the woman concerned".
While abortion is no longer a crime in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, terminations in Victoria are performed under a 1969 common law ruling that permits abortion, provided it is necessary to protect the woman's life or health.
Hutch Hussein, spokeswoman for the Labor Party's women's group, Emily's List, said abortion should be under the Health Act .
"Because abortion remains in the Crimes Act, it is technically still illegal and remains the only surgical procedure not covered by the Health Act," she said.
Government spokeswoman Alison Crosweller said Labor's election commitments for this year's poll would be developed after Saturday's ALP state conference.
Opposition Leader Robert Doyle said he would support a change in the abortion law in a conscience vote, but the Liberal Party had no plans to draft the legislation.
Executive director of Women's Health Victoria Marilyn Beaumont said abortion should be treated as a health issue and not covered under the Crimes Act.
But not everyone in the Labor Party would support a change.
Former community services minister Christine Campbell said: "I will never vote for abortion; women deserve better than abortion."
Currently, general sentiment is that any unwanted pregnancy is a threat to the woman's physical and mental health, virtually all medical practitioners are willing to certify that an unwilling pregnant woman's health is threatened by continuing her pregnancy, thus abortion is generally permitted. That pregnancy terminations are considered surgical procedures that are covered by Medicare is indicative of the general social consensus on abortion being considered a valid and necessary medical decision.
But this is obviously a cultural norm which could change if the pro-life movement wins in the way it presents its message about abortion being riskier than pregnancy and morally wrong besides. Then that open-ended phrase "threatens the woman's life or health" becomes a tool which can be used to deny access to pregnancy termination just as easily as it currently allows it. The way in which this very article opens with a mention of "late-term abortion" when the proposed legal change is about pregnancy termination at all stages shows just how the arguments against a general principle of reproductive choice rights can be spun to appear to be all about a very few difficult and ghastly cases that most people find disturbing.
This law moving the regulation of abortion from the Crimes Act to the Health Act is exactly how the issue should be framed by pro-choicers. Take the taint of criminality away entirely and regulate a woman's health choice about her reproductive system just the same way that any other health choice is regulated.
I hope that New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory soon follow suit.