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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2557 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

The whole reason for having a Crimes Act is to lay down sanctions against acts that society considers deserving of fines or jail terms. I do not believe that society considers abortion as deserving of a fine or jail term, so abortion should not be a crime under the act.

It is currently unclear whether or not abortion is legal in the ACT, as Mr Osborne's abortion laws do affect applications of sections 40 to 45 of the Crimes Act, and the criminality of abortion in the ACT has never been tested.

The Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act clearly states that compliance with the act does not affect the application of the criminal law. We can only assume then that women in the ACT can access abortion legally only if there is a serious risk to their mental or physical health. Hence, a woman can legally have an abortion only if there is a risk to her health, which precludes the range of reasons that women may have to make not to continue with a pregnancy.

This situation forces women who have an abortion although there is no risk to their health to lie. They are not allowed to say that their reason is legitimate. If a woman does not want children at all or now, if she does not want to raise children alone, if she has enough children, or if she does not want a child with a particular person, these are not legal reasons under what we think the current interpretation of the Crimes Act might be. Such a situation is unacceptable. There is no certainty, there is no respect and there is no choice.

As long as these provisions remain on the statute book, there is a very real possibility that they could be enforced, and we have no certainty as to what would happen if they were. The women of the ACT deserve certainty, and repealing sections of the Crimes Act that refer to abortion is the best way to deliver this certainty.

Not only does criminalising abortion limit a woman's choice; it can endanger her health. When abortion is illegal, women can take their health into their own hands or risk it in what are often terms backyard abortions. The World Health Organisation estimates that approximately 78,000 women die each year because of unsafe abortions. Those who would argue that abortion should remain illegal often cite the right to life, but what about the right to life of these women?

If we were at all serious about reducing rates of abortion, then the existence of criminal sanctions is not the way to go about it. To place a jail sentence on the end result is not the way to go with this issue. Rather, we should be looking at more widely available and comprehensive sex education and more accessible and effective contraception. We should be looking at all the options available to women and whether we can improve the chance for some women to balance work or education with motherhood. We need to look at the emotional, financial and community support that women need if they are to have real choices when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

Even so, there will be times when no amount of financial assistance and no amount of family friendly practices will change the fact that an unwanted pregnancy is impossible to continue. Are we going to put a woman in jail if, under these circumstances, she has an abortion? I should hope not, and if we are not going to, then the sections of the Crimes Act that refer to abortion need to be repealed.

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