Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2580 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
We all know that women do not treat abortion lightly. Every woman who has reached the decision to have an abortion has considered the physical and emotional consequences. All this law did was increase the trauma and inconvenience for women who had made a decision to pursue a termination.
The 72-hour cooling-off period is one of the major things that I do not like about the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act. The 72-hour cooling-off period has resulted in women in the ACT travelling to Queanbeyan to have abortions. It has also meant that women who live in the rural New South Wales surrounds have had to travel twice to the ACT if they are to undergo an abortion-at great cost to themselves, their emotional health and their mental stability.
These women have been told that they have not thought about it enough, when I believe they had. Many of these women cannot afford the extra expense of either travelling to Canberra twice, or staying here for three days. An already difficult situation becomes much harder.
I am very pleased and proud to be standing here to vote for the repeal of the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act. I see no need to retain any part of this regulation and I support its abolition.
MR HUMPHRIES (Leader of the Opposition) (5.57): Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not support the passage of this bill. I am yet to hear, in this debate, an argument as to why the sorts of things that the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act does are inappropriate and should be dispensed with. Let us examine what the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act 1998 actually does.
It requires the reporting of abortion procedures to health authorities. It allows indicators of statistical trends to be determined, to understand what is happening with abortion. If we believe, as Mr Berry says he believes, that abortion should be rare, then we have to know how rare it is before it is possible to determine whether we have achieved our goals in respect of this kind of procedure. The publication of those statistics provides information as to what antenatal supports might be lacking to women who experience problems with pregnancy. That goes out the window with the passage of this bill tonight.
The provision of expert, independent information to a woman considering an abortion is the other element of this legislation. It protects the woman from ignorance about the abortion procedure and the risk to herself, and provides information about the development of her baby. The act provides for a cooling-off period of three days between approaching the abortion facility and submitting to the procedure. This measure is intended to ensure that the girl or woman is not subjected to pressing and immediate pressure from any third party, if at all possible. Most importantly, it protects the rights of people to refuse to be involved in the performance of an abortion operation, to counsel a woman for abortion, or to refer a woman for abortion.
What conceivable argument could there be against each of these matters being present in the law of the territory? As has been said before, in equivalent circumstances where other important decisions are being made by a woman-or by a person in general-we would be happy to recommend access to independent advice where the decision is a major one.