VICTORIA: by Babette FrancisNews Weekly
The ALP's abortion agenda
, November 11, 2006
Labor Premier Steve Bracks has threatened to decriminalise abortion in Victoria if his government is re-elected on November 25 for another term of office, writes Babette Francis.The Steve Bracks Labor Government has threatened to decriminalise abortion in Victoria if it is re-elected on November 25 for another term of office.
Opposing Premier Bracks is a new pro-life grouping, the recently formed Coalition Against the Decriminalisation of Abortion (CADOA).
Over 50 pro-life organisations and churches have already joined CADOA. The coalition declares: "CADOA opposes the decriminalisation of abortion. We want to protect our next generation."
It says that it will ask all MPs and candidates for parliament how they will vote in a conscience vote on decriminalising abortion, and will publish all results on its website (www.cadoa.org) so that pro-life voters can know whom to vote for at the forthcoming Victorian state election.
The decriminalisation of abortion has become a significant election issue, despite efforts by both Labor and Liberal leaders to defuse it.Decriminalisation
CADOA is campaigning vigorously against the decriminalisation of abortion, providing information through its website and taking out major advertisements highlighting the consequences of decriminalisation in the two Melbourne dailies, The Age
and the Herald Sun
The so-called Menhennitt ruling (Victoria, 1969) declares abortion to be a crime. Section 65 of the Victorian Crimes Act says that abortion is a crime.
However, Mr Justice Menhennitt's ruling in R.
(1969) says that an abortion is "lawfully justified if it were (a) 'necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth)' and (b) 'in circumstances not out of proportion to the danger to be averted'." The ruling moreover permits abortion provided it is deemed "necessary to protect the life or health of the woman".
Section 10 of the Crimes Act says that the offence of child destruction applies if a mother or another person causes the death of a child of 28 weeks gestation or more.
Abortions can be obtained in Victoria for doubtful medical and health reasons, but Section 10 has generally restricted abortion beyond 28 weeks.
If abortion is decriminalised, however, it will be open season on babies of any gestational age, and will remove legal protection from doctors, nurses and ancillary staff who do not wish to participate in performing abortions.
If the decriminalisation of abortion is debated in the Victorian Parliament, it will be a conscience vote‚ where all members can vote according to their conscience and are not required to follow party policy.
The Victorian Labor Party Conference (May 2006) re-confirmed the ALP policy on the decriminalisation of abortion: "The platform declares: "Labor will amend section 65 of the Crimes Act to provide that no abortion be criminal when performed by a legally qualified medical practitioner at the request of the woman concerned."
An amendment by former minister Christine Campbell and backbencher Noel Pullen called for the platform to be changed so more consideration was given to the negative effects of late-term abortions. This was defeated.
If implemented, ALP policy would mean that abortion would be allowed for any
reason at any
time during the pregnancy, including late term or partial birth abortions. This is currently the situation in the ACT, where there are no restrictions on abortion.
The parliamentary Labor Party is not bound to implement this policy - but there have been reports of deals‚ done by Mr Bracks with feminists in the ALP to decriminalise abortion in his next term. (See The Age
, May 8 and July 28, 2006, and "Bracks makes abortion deal", Herald Sun
, May 5, 2006).
It is not unreasonable to surmise that the Bracks Labor Government might push for such legislation should it be re-elected in November for another term.
In March 2006, state Labor MP Carolyn Hirsh announced that she planned to bring in a private member's bill to decriminalise abortion this year. She then backed down from that proposal. The Age
suggested this was because of pressure from the Premier.
Two months later, the Herald Sun
said Carolyn Hirsh "told a Women's Policy Committee meeting at ALP head office on April 12 that Premier Bracks' pledge to permit the decriminalisation of abortion would be 'at the top of his agenda' if he won a third term - provided she dropped her private member's bill".
In March, Mr Bracks said "We have no plans to have that on the legislative agenda this year. (But) the matter will be considered in future depending on, one: we have government, and two: what decisions are made as a government in implementing party policy." (Herald Sun
, May 5, 2006).
In August, Mr Bracks was reported as saying "There is party policy which indicates that decriminalisation of abortion should be pursued. That is a matter that we will consider if we happen to be re-elected." (The Age
, August 31, 2006).
Liberal leader Ted Baillieu has said he is personally in favour of decriminalising abortion. However, at the end of August he announced that the Liberals "don't have any plans to bring forward legislation". (The Age
, August 31, 2006).
A week later, Mr Bracks responded by saying "my preference has been for the current system to remain" but, when asked how he would vote if a conscience vote was allowed in the Victorian Parliament next year, Mr Bracks said that would depend on the bill at the time, but added: "In principle, I support the current arrangements, which permit abortion."
Comments from both political parties are vague. However, voters need to know what the policies of the political parties are, as well as the views of individual members of Parliament and candidates.Late-term abortions
Replies received by concerned voters from Premier Bracks' chief of staff, David Miller, appear to be misleading. Mr Miller states that the suggested policy change does not extend to section 10 or change the position in relation to late-term abortions, but how can this be so if abortion is decriminalised?
Does the ALP intend a gestational-age limit for decriminalisation, e.g., will abortion be decriminalised up to 28 weeks and not thereafter? And, if so, will they prosecute the abortionists of the 32-weeks gestation baby alleged to be suffering from dwarfism?
CADOA is encouraging pro-life individuals and groups to contact their MPs, as well as party leaders, to let them know of their opposition to the decriminalisation of abortion.- Babette Francis is co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc, one of the organisations supporting CADOA.