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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2545 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

As individuals, women are responsible for their own reproductive decisions. Women must have the right to make reproductive decisions for themselves and the community should respect and support such decisions. I believe that the provisions relating to abortion should be removed from the ACT's Crimes Act to reflect the principle that the regulation of human reproduction is a health issue and is not the business of the criminal law.

I also believe that we need to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place for women contemplating or undergoing an abortion in the same way that other aspects of health care require safeguards. In particular, I support legislation which clearly provides that only qualified medical practitioners can perform abortions and only in approved facilities. I would also support the right of any person to refuse to assist in performing an abortion.

All Australian jurisdictions have felt it necessary to review their abortion laws in recent years and regulate abortions in some way. While the form of this regulation may vary from state to state, all Australian jurisdictions strive to protect women from the consequences of unsafe abortions, ensure that abortions only occur with the informed consent of the woman concerned, ensure that medical practitioners are given appropriate legal protection whether they agree or refuse to perform legal abortions, and punish acts of violence against women which may result in miscarriage.

The proposed legislative changes that we are dealing with will not negate the need for health professionals to provide full information to women considering an abortion. Informed consent is required for all medical procedures and this requirement will continue to be met. Comprehensive termination of pregnancy protocols will continue to operate to ensure that women and families experiencing abortion have the best care provided by experienced staff prior to, during and after an abortion. Follow-up care will remain an important aspect of this service continuum.

Even with the best information and services, fertility cannot be controlled perfectly or at will. Reproductive education, reliable contraception and safe legal abortion together constitute a necessary range of services for effective family planning and fertility control. There is some compelling information to highlight the facts about abortion, based on research conducted by the Public Health Association of Australia. There are, and it is regrettable, millions of abortions performed around the world each year. Almost a third are performed in adverse social and legal environments. In countries where abortion is illegal or where affordable services are not available, women do not stop having abortions. They use unsafe services at greater risk to their health and lives. Globally, about 30 per cent of maternal deaths-that is, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth-are attributable to unsafe abortion.

When performed by qualified personnel under hygienic conditions, abortion is a very safe procedure. The risk of maternal death from unsafe abortion is between 100 and 500 times higher than if performed under safe conditions. In Australia, maternal health has fallen dramatically since earlier this century. A significant component of this reduction is the near disappearance of maternal deaths due to abortion. There is no evidence that the availability of abortion led Australian women to systematically neglect the use of contraception and choose abortion instead.

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