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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2628 ..

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (11.00): I was not going to speak, but I feel that I should respond to the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition. Certainly, it would be repugnant that anyone coerced a woman to have an abortion. I am most concerned, though, at the sort of law-making which says, "A person must not coerce a woman to have an abortion. Maximum penalty-imprisonment for 10 years."

What are the elements of this crime? What are the elements of coercing a woman to have an abortion that would lead to a conviction leading to 10 years imprisonment? This is not good law-making. This not a good offence.

Mr Humphries: Why not?

MR STANHOPE: That means nothing, and I think you know that, Mr Humphries. As a lawyer, as a former Attorney-General, you know that that provision is virtually meaningless in the law. "A person must not coerce a women to have an abortion." What does that mean? What are the elements of this offence? What form does the coercion take?

Mr Humphries: Coercion exists elsewhere in the law.

MR STANHOPE: "A person must not coerce" does not mean anything. It is dangerous law-making, because there is no way of confining the expression. What does coercion mean? What elements fulfil the requirements of this serious offence, an offence that will attract 10 years in prison, this offence of coercion to have an abortion?

Is it perhaps just moral persuasion? Is it a form of bullying? What is it? Is it some sort of blackmail, some threat? What exactly constitutes the coercing of a woman to have an abortion? I just make the point that this is not a way for the criminal law to proceed. I think that if one were to look at reports of the scrutiny of bills committee, one would find similar concerns expressed about this provision, that it is dangerous law-making to introduce into the Crimes Act a penalty, attracting 10 years in jail, of coercing a woman to have an abortion in circumstances where there is no definition around the term and there are no elements provided or described of the offence. I certainly cannot support an offence of that sort.

MS TUCKER (11.03): I will not be supporting this provision, either. Having a prohibition on coercion sounds good on the face of it but, as other members have said, what exactly do we mean? I am surprised that we did not also make it an offence to coerce someone out of having an abortion. In a way, the result of the last vote makes that a possibility. It is, as Mr Stanhope said, dangerously ill defined. Is it coercive to advertise that you provide abortions? Is it coercive to talk about a woman's right to choose? Is a friend coercing in supporting or in some way encouraging someone in their desire? Is that coercion?

Clearly, sometimes there are coercive attempts by partners who are not ready for a child or others involved in a woman's life and it is not okay for that to happen, but is that what we are talking about? Is it coercion if a partner says to a spouse or whatever, "No, I am not comfortable with this"? Would that person have to go to jail for 10 years?

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