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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2548 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

is a crime. Soon we may have national laws enshrining paid maternity leave. At the moment, we also have a law that makes a woman seeking a medical procedure a criminal. Comments have been made this morning that this law is not what we think, that it is wrong and unenforceable and should only be applied to doctors. Well, let us remove it. Let us remove a law that is draconian, not enforced and unenforceable.

The complete lack of convictions for abortion in the ACT shows that the judiciary and successive governments have rejected the concept of abortion as a crime. This is an obsolete piece of law that must be removed. Keeping these laws in place will only appease the small but noisy anti-choice groups. These laws do not save lives and they definitely do not help women. It is completely unacceptable that a women seeking to exercise her right to decide when to have a child faces the possibility of 10 years in prison as a consequence. This is an outdated law that contradicts Australians' overwhelming belief that the decision about abortion should be left to the individual and their doctor.

Anti-abortion campaigners believe that the right choice is not to have an abortion. This leads these people to assume that with adequate information a woman will choose not to have an abortion. There is only a small jump from there to saying that the only information that is adequate is that which leads to a decision not to have an abortion. I think we would agree that that is not truly informed decision-making.

I have read Melinda Tankard Reist's book Giving Sorrow Words, as Melinda was kind enough to send me a copy. The thing that struck me about the women in these stories was not the medical procedures that they took, not the fact that they had an abortion, but the fact that they were all pressured into it, that they were not free to make a choice. Treating abortion as a crime will not deal with the problem of women being pressured by men, by their partners, and others. Empowering women will. Women are empowered by the expansion of their real life choices and liberalising abortion law is directed to this end.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a very important issue for me that abortion should be a crime, that as a woman the courts could determine my future over a medical procedure. I raised this issue in my first speech in this chamber. I said then and I say again today that I believe in a woman's right to choose. The year is 2002. We are standing in a democratically-elected parliament, representing members of a notionally-free community, yet we still have laws that treat women seeking a medical procedure like criminals.

Despite evidence of overwhelming public support for the decriminalisation of pregnancy termination and improved access to abortion for women in Australia, politicians in all jurisdictions have consistently failed to act on calls from within the community and even from government instrumentalities to remove abortion from criminal legislation. We all agree that we have a very important role as legislators. We must be responsive to community demands, but we must also lead.

Access to abortion empowers women by enabling them to decide when and whether to bear a child. These decisions are never taken lightly and I am very angry at the patronising assumptions made by the anti-choice groups which believe that women are incapable of making decisions about their own lives and their own futures. Pro-choice

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