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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 2982 ..

Thursday, 25 November
Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998

MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer) (12.01 am): Mr Speaker, I think it would be very strange if we had in legislation a penalty for a non-doctor who conducts an abortion that is very different from the penalty for a non-doctor who does brain surgery. That is really what this is about. It is about bringing penalties into line. In other legislation, there are penalties for people who are not doctors performing medical procedures.

Mr Humphries: What are they?

MS CARNELL: The same as this. This amendment, I am advised, brings the penalty into line with the Medical Practitioners Act.

As Mr Humphries says, if a backyard abortionist in any way causes a health problem for the woman involved, then it will not be with an offence under this clause that that person is charged. It will be the offence of grievous bodily harm, an offence with a significantly higher penalty. If somebody not a medical practitioner conducts an abortion or brain surgery in an inappropriate facility, the least of their worries would be this legislation. There would be much higher penalties under other pieces of legislation.

This amendment, on my advice, brings this legislation into line with the Medical Practitioners Act, which provides for a penalty of 50 penalty units or six months' imprisonment, or both.

MR OSBORNE (12.03 am): Mr Speaker, I will be voting against this amendment. This is a very important issue, as Mr Humphries indicated. This is about people who are not doctors performing backyard abortions. If someone who is not a doctor performed brain surgery, they would probably be charged with murder. I think it is very important that we keep this penalty in the Bill. As I said, it does not relate to anyone other than an unqualified person who performs an abortion. I think Mr Humphries' argument was very sensible. I would encourage members to leave this penalty in the Bill, because I think it is very important.

MR QUINLAN (12.04 am): Mr Speaker, I find myself in strange territory agreeing with Mr Humphries, but I will not make a habit of it, I promise you. I rise to say that it is a great pity that we have to have a provision like this at all. If we have complete choice available to women, then this will become an obscure part of the law, I hope and trust. I cannot agree with the amendment.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (12.05 am): Mr Speaker, I confirm that I too will agree with Mr Quinlan. Therefore, we all find ourselves on somewhat strange ground. This clause is a clear signal to the community that a return to the backyard is not acceptable; that it will not happen. I think backyard abortion is a very serious crime, and we should make the punishment a very serious punishment. A fine of $5,000 is not a serious punishment. Five years in gaol sends a clear indication that this Assembly does not endorse a return to the backyard. I too will reject the amendment.

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