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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 2858 ..


Debate resumed from 18 November 1998, on motion by Mr Osborne:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (12.16): Mr Speaker, the legislation first put to this Assembly in August was not only flawed, but unworkable. It was an attack on the basic human rights of women in our community and their capacity for autonomous decision-making about their lives. It sought to regulate and interfere with the privacy and confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship.

I respect members' personal views about abortion, based on their own beliefs, religion or personal circumstances. However, it is not the place of this Assembly to impose those views on women in such a way as to impact adversely on their health. If we, as a community, value our rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, then we cannot support laws which impose one particular religious or moral view on those who have different views. Mr Speaker, we live in a culturally and spiritually diverse society. That original Bill that was put to this Assembly, in particular, undermines that diversity.

The human rights of women also include the right to have control over and to decide freely and responsibly on matters relating to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health. They must be able to make such decisions free of coercion, free of discrimination and free of violence. Only women themselves can make those choices. And it is just that - a choice - a choice about an unplanned pregnancy. Many women will choose to continue with such a pregnancy. There is no evidence whatsoever that liberal abortion laws encourage women to have abortions. In fact, when abortion is illegal or very difficult to obtain, there is little, if any, reduction in the abortion rate. But there is a much higher risk of unsafe abortions, increased morbidity and even increased mortality - that is, death - for women.

The original Bill and, to a lesser extent, the current Bill before us would put women seeking an abortion through a degrading and traumatic process. Originally, there was an attempt to introduce measures to have the effect of making access to safe abortion services so difficult that women who decided to have an abortion would be faced with punitive laws and inappropriate involvement of medical specialists and psychiatrists; would be forced to label themselves as mentally ill; would be confronted with information and material which may not be appropriate to their needs; or would have to undergo the stress and expense of going interstate to have their abortion. Those who could not afford this may go ahead with an unwanted pregnancy. Some may even resort to unsafe and illegal procedures, thus risking their health and wellbeing.

Australian law already prohibits the administration of any medical treatment to a competent adult unless her or his consent is first obtained. It applies equally to every medical procedure. To be legally effective, the consent must be adequately informed.

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