Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2517 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
gestation-or if this cannot be determined, of at least 400 grams weight, with no sign of respiration or heartbeat immediately after birth.
The offence of child destruction in the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory is limited to acts which cause the death of a viable foetus during birth. This section-section 42 of the Crimes Act-is unaffected by this bill. Because of the methods that can be used in very late-term abortions, it seems to me that the child destruction clause may well apply. Very late-term abortions-"right up to the moment of birth"-arguments are nonsensical. It does not happen, and that is not what this bill is about.
At least 98 per cent of abortions in the ACT are done prior to 14 weeks gestation. It is rare for someone to want an abortion in the final trimester, and even more rare for her to get one. In the ACT, up to 24 weeks or so is the maximum, and then only when a panel at a hospital, put together by the chiefs of women's and children's health, consider it is medically and ethically justified. What do we, as legislators, know about their individual cases? Why would we try to restrict what almost never happens? Once an arbitrary limit is set, it reduces the capacity to deal with someone in a specific case.
Viability tends to be the cut-off mark in the assessment, but each individual situation is taken into account. The reasons are evaluated by the medical practitioners concerned at the hospital, and by a panel. They consider the viability of an abortion against the consequences for the woman and the child if the pregnancy continues. The Victorian act sets viability at 28 weeks. We can see echoes of this view of viability in the ACT law on disposal of the dead body of a child, but this is a difficult area to assess.
It is clear that people have been misled on the question of timing. This bill does not open the way for abortions at all stages of pregnancy. The same medical and ethical, to some extent legal and, quite frankly, personal limits on when abortions are carried out are not changed by removing criminality.
Finally, in supporting this bill, I am making a pro-choice, not a pro-abortion statement. I sincerely hope that, today, we will take a step forward and repeal this outdated and unjust law. I hope we will continue to remove social exclusion, and I hope we will work towards developing a social condition which means that fewer women have to face this difficult decision. We need to be able to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. By passing this bill, we will also be able to reduce the pain of the individual situations when they arise.
MRS DUNNE (11.52): Mr Deputy Speaker, in accordance with standing order 84, I present a petition from 625 electors from the electorate of Ginninderra in relation to the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Repeal Bill and the Crimes (Abolition of Offence of Abortion) Bill, calling on the Assembly to oppose this bill. The passage of this bill would be contrary to the fundamental role of government, which is to protect the lives and promote the wellbeing of the members of our community, particularly the most vulnerable, under Australia's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The order of the day for the tabling of petitions has passed. However, you may seek leave to table a petition.