Page 3836 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 19 September 2018

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Health (Improving Abortion Access) Amendment Bill 2018

Debate resumed from 21 March 2018, on motion by Ms Le Couteur:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MS FITZHARRIS (Yerrabi—Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Medical and Health Research, Minister for Transport and Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (5.26): I welcome the opportunity to respond to the Health (Improving Abortion Access) Amendment Bill 2018 introduced by Ms Le Couteur in March this year. The broad intention of Ms Le Couteur’s bill is to make abortions more accessible in the ACT, and the government is very pleased to support this.

This year we have engaged with the Women’s Centre for Health Matters on this topic as well as other issues surrounding women’s health care and, in particular, women’s timely and affordable access to health care in the ACT. Under Labor the ACT government has always strongly supported greater access to abortion services because safe, accessible and affordable abortion services are fundamental to a woman’s right to choose. This is why the government supports this bill in principle.

I will, however, propose a number of amendments to strengthen the improved access it will provide to women in the ACT. These amendments relate to matters of language, conscientious objection, legal issues related to the prescribing rights of nurse practitioners, exclusion zones and timing. I now seek leave to table the amendments circulated in my name.

The ACT Labor government is committed to supporting and enabling women to make informed decisions about whether or not to seek an abortion. Ensuring access to services that assist women before, during and after to making their decision about their pregnancy is vital. In the ACT abortion has long been considered to be a health issue rather than a criminal matter. This occurred in 2002 under amendments to the ACT’s Health Act 1993.

The Medical Practitioners (Maternal Health) Amendment Act 2002 was introduced by a former Minister for Health Ms Katy Gallagher to amend the Medical Practitioners Act 1930. The act was intended to protect women from malpractice as surgical abortions were the only type of abortion available at the time. The act included the requirement for doctors and doctors only to carry out an abortion and for an abortion to be carried out only in an approved facility.

When the Medical Practitioners Act 1930 was repealed in 2005 part 4B, abortions, was transferred in its entirety and made into part 6, Abortions, within the Health Act 1993. Part 6 of the act defines abortion as “causing a woman’s miscarriage by a drug, using an instrument or by any other means”. This part of the Health Act also provides that only a doctor may carry out an abortion and that an abortion is to be carried out in an approved medical facility. The minister may approve a medical facility or an appropriate part of a medical facility as suitable on medical grounds for carrying out

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