Tuesday, 11th June 2013

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is urging Tasmania’s upper house members to reject the controversial Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill that would decriminalise abortion in the state.

ACL’s Tasmanian Director Mark Brown says the bill – likely to be debated in the upper house this week – has no mandate, and has significant implications for women’s health, for freedom of conscience, and free speech.

“There is no mandate for decriminalising abortion in Tasmania as law changes in 2001 put to rest concerns regarding criminal prosecutions against women or doctors and there have been no such prosecutions since,” he said.

“There are also no significant accessibility issues that would justify decriminalisation when four abortion clinics around the state perform the bulk of abortions and without waiting lists or the need for referrals[i],” he said.

Mr. Brown said under the proposed changes women with unplanned pregnancies will be prevented from making an informed decision.

"The bill essentially opens the door for abortion on demand. Under the proposed laws the currently mandated doctor assessments and referrals to counselling will be removed for those women seeking abortions before 16 weeks gestation. These encompass over 95 per cent of all abortions," he said.

"How can less information result in better decision making? Such a critical choice made on behalf of an unborn child requires women who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy to be supported and supplied with all possible options and potential outcomes. This is especially important at a time when they are particularly vulnerable," he said.

“Beyond this, the bill violates the fundamental right of freedom of conscience by forcing conscientious objectors - whether doctors or counsellors - to comply with a practice they cannot support,” he said.“Those who wish to exercise their right to respectful protest will also face prison sentences if the legislation is passed.”

ACL has recently presented these concerns in a letter to the Legislative Council and says community concern about the extreme nature of the bill has been ignored from the beginning of the consultation period.

“Despite a very short community consultation period, 2000 submissions were received. It was found that 87 per cent of respondents were opposed to abortion," he said.

Mr Brown said a Galaxy Poll in February of 300 respondents, aged 16-49 shows Tasmanians are opposed (73%) to late-term abortions (after 20 weeks), when the child has mild disabilities (59%), for the purposes of sex selection (92%), when continuing a pregnancy would cause financial hardship (66%), affect the mother’s career (79%), or when parents feel they have enough children. (63%).

“ACL encourages Legislative Councillors to consider the sentiments of the community before they vote on this controversial law,” he said.

“It is the duty of legislators to protect freedom of conscience and free speech, and to protect the vulnerable by providing help for those women to make a truly informed decision about the welfare of their children,” Mr Brown said.

In April, ACL presented a submission to the Information Paper relating to the bill. Click here to read the submission.

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1 See article in the Sunday Tasmanian on April 21st where Dr Paul Hyland, a local gynaecologist who performs abortions Said around 1000 abortions (up to 14 weeks gestation) are conducted per year (approximately 20 per week) through his clinics in Hobart and Launceston. A second group, Fertility Control Clinic operates a clinic in Moonah (using fly in doctors). A clinic of unspecified affiliation operates out of Burnie. Dr Hyland estimates the total number of abortions performed in Tasmania at between 1200 and 1500 per year. Note: 95% of all abortions in Australia are performed before 13 weeks gestation (Information Paper P 15).