Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 9 Hansard (2 September) . . Page.. 2821 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
admitting to having special expertise in neonatal medicine, obstetrics, psychiatry or women's health. How anyone in this place feels that he or she has the right to veto the opinion of this expert panel is absolutely amazing to me.
I remind members why the expert panel approved the material it did. In relation to pictures and drawings, it said that it was the unanimous view of the panel that the presentation of pictures or drawings of foetuses is irrelevant and in some cases could be counterproductive and cloud the issue. The panel noted that the New Zealand material, which was referred to often by members who were supporting this legislation originally as a reason for having these sorts of pictures in there, is now being revised to take into account the perception that pictures may introduce emotional bias. No-one in this place has actually responded to that. It has been raised by other members, but we have not had a response yet about why it is okay, even though New Zealand is now saying that it is not and even though they used New Zealand as an excuse in the original debate.
The panel here has not approved any material containing pictures or drawings of foetuses. I heard the Chief Minister interject that they are only pictures. To me, that is a shocking statement. To say that they are only pictures is to totally deny any concern about impacts on the mental health of women. What does "only pictures" mean? I can show any number of people pictures and they can have a hugely traumatic impact, depending on the person and the picture. These are not "only pictures"; they are pictures of foetuses that are being forced on women who are contemplating having an abortion.
That raises another issue that really has to be responded to. The Chief Minister also said that women do not have to look at them if they do not want to. That was the subject of discussion in the original debate. I have to revisit it because I am still hearing the Chief Minister, at least, saying that they do not have to look at them. The objects of this Act are to ensure - this is the onus on medical practitioners - that adequate and balanced medical advice and information are given to a woman who is considering an abortion and ensure that a decision by a woman to proceed or not to proceed with an abortion is carefully considered. The onus is on the doctor to ensure it.
Anyone having to work with this legislation has to look further into the Act, to section 8, to ascertain what information must be provided - "must be provided". Where it is proposed to perform an abortion, a medical practitioner shall properly, appropriately and adequately provide the woman with advice about certain things. The point that I am making here is that that is still going to be very difficult. Nothing has changed. It is the same as the piece of legislation that we debated originally. It is very unclear exactly what that means for someone who is trying to observe the law. It may well be the case that people believe that they have an obligation to force this information on women. We do not have a clear case of it being optional at all.
The other thing that has to be said is that the underlying sentiment of these regulations clearly is paternalistic. I reject the Chief Minister's argument that it is paternalistic not to offer people full information. For a start, there is no way that you can offer full information to anyone about such a personal decision. What is full information for a woman who is deciding whether to have an abortion? Full information has to include information on all the implications of that decision, which nobody could predict for an individual.