CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
RU-486 vote highlights MPs' moral confusion
, March 4, 2006
Although Federal Parliament's vote on the abortion pill was a setback for the pro-life cause, at least pro-abortionists no longer pretend that abortion is a minor and inconsequential surgical procedure.Federal Parliament's overwhelming decision to permit the use of the abortion drug RU-486 in Australia is clearly a major step backwards in the pro-life cause.
Despite the big loss, there were some positive aspects to the most wide-ranging and open parliamentary debate since the Euthanasia Bill of 1997.
Abortion is no longer seen as a positive, or even a neutral, procedure.
Even the most ardent pro-abortionist was forced to concede during the parliamentary debate that abortion is a difficult, traumatic and painful decision, which often has long-term consequences for the woman who chooses to abort.
Twenty years or even 10 years ago, a similar debate would have been very difficult, with pro-abortionists arguing that abortion was like any other minor surgical procedure, such as removing a corn or an ingrown toenail.
It was once argued by some feminists that abortion was even a liberating event. Such statements would now be viewed as nonsense.
Now pro-abortion MPs, despite their post-vote champagne-and-strawberries victory party, have been forced to concede that the fewer abortions there are the better. This in itself is a major victory for the pro-life cause.
Nevertheless, the cross-party support and the dominance of women in favour of the abortion pill were disheartening for pro-life supporters.
The Nationals were once considered the most conservative party in the Parliament. Yet the private member's bill to permit the lifting of the ban on RU-486 was introduced by Nationals Senator Fiona Nash. The president of the Queensland Nationals, Bruce Scott, voted in favour of the Bill.
It seems ancient history now that, in 1979, another National Country Party MP, Stephen Lusher (incidentally from the same region of New South Wales as Senator Nash), moved a motion in the House of Representatives to restrict the payment by Medibank of medical benefits for the termination of pregnancy.
The exception to the Lusher proposal was in the event of the need to perform a termination to protect the life of the mother from a physical pathological condition and when her life could be protected in no other way. Lusher's motion was defeated by a margin of 65 to 47.
In the recent vote, Labor, Liberal, Nationals, Greens and Australian Democrats women joined forces to push for a women-led ending of the RU-486 ban. The only party in the Parliament which voted against the removal of the ban was Family First (Senator Steve Fielding).
Leaders of the push to introduce the bill included Democrats leader Senator Lyn Allison, Victorian Liberals Sharman Stone MP and Senator Judith Troeth, and Queensland Labor Senator Claire Moore.Tiny Labor remnant
The final vote was 95 to 50 with one abstention - the independent NSW MP Peter Andren. Just five Labor MPs out of 60 voted against the bill. The tiny Labor remnant consisted of Anthony Byrne, Tony Burke, John Murphy, Chris Hayes (Mark Latham's replacement) and a sole Labor frontbencher, Gavan O'Connor.
Labor leader Kim Beazley and aspiring leader Kevin Rudd, both of whom profess to be Christian and pro-life, voted in favour of the bill. Mr Beazley's speech in favour of the abortion pill was one of the most confused defences of his conflicted position imaginable.
Even on a purely political level, both men dealt themselves serious blows to their hopes of eventually leading the country, sending confused signals to the Christian community they want to get on side.
Aspiring Liberal leader Peter Costello also voted for a relaxing of the RU486 ban, as did Dr Brendan Nelson and new MP Malcolm Turnbull.
In his speech Mr Costello spoke of his own personal dilemma over abortion when his wife was unconscious and pregnant 18 years ago. In the end, he decided against an abortion and both his wife and unborn child survived; but he said he firmly believed the law should have permitted an alternative choice.
But Mr Costello's example was irrelevant to the RU-486 debate, which was about permitting women to self-abort using a pill. Even the Lusher motion in 1979 conceded that life and death situations were outside the scope of the Bill. And even doctors in a pro-life religious hospital would not stand by and permit both a mother and a foetus die in an emergency situation.
Prime Minister John Howard voted against the bill, supporting his health minister Tony Abbott.
Most commentators claimed it was a big loss for Mr Howard. In fact, even though he was on the losing side, it was an emphatic win. Once again, Mr Howard has marginalised Kim Beazley who stood firm with the hard-line feminists on the Labor side.
Standing with Mr Howard on the Liberal side, as the last of the conservative leadership group, was Alexander Downer. Indeed, Mr Downer's decision to side with Mr Howard will eventually be seen as the clearest sign that he is the Liberal most likely to take on Costello after the PM retires.
Others who stood with Mr Howard included Andrew Robb, Sophie Panopoulos, Chris Pyne, Wilson Tuckey and Jackie Kelly.
Interestingly, there were just four MPs who were present for the original Lusher proposal: Howard, Philip Ruddock, Alan Cadman and David Jull. In 1979, all four voted for the bill. In 2006, all but Mr Jull maintained their philosophical opposition to abortion.Late news update (Feb 22):
John Howard's Cabinet last night endorsed a $60 million boost for counselling and pregnancy support in a bid to cut the 100,000 annual abortion rate. The money will go to a 24-hour advice hotline for pregnant women. Tony Abbott won unanimous support for this initiative in Cabinet.