This week a standing committee of the Tasmanian Upper House began hearing evidence regarding proposed changes to Tasmania’s abortion laws. Abortion is currently lawful in Tasmania (up to full term) if two medical practitioners agree that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman than if the pregnancy were terminated. The laws relating to abortion are contained within the Tasmanian Criminal Code.

The key changes which the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 seeks to make include: Removing abortion from the criminal code and placing it in health related legislation; removing all hurdles (eg doctors assessments) prior to 16 weeks gestation; widening the criteria doctors will need to use in assessing mothers with post 16 week old babies; penalising those who would hinder the process of those seeking an abortion.

There were wide ranging contributors giving evidence at this week’s hearing. Local Constitutional Law Lecturer Michael Stokes suggested parts of the bill were unconstitutional and others parts likely to increase the likelihood of doctors performing live birth late-term abortions being convicted of homicide. Victorian Obstetrician Lachlan de Crespigny, who campaigned successfully campaigned to liberalise Victoria’s abortion laws in 2008, encouraged Tasmanian legislators to do likewise, arguing abortion should not be singled out as a crime.

The topic of abortion is always emotionally charged and it appears this rang true during evidence presented to the committee this week. ACL is particularly troubled about this radical legislation as it goes further than any other of it kind and would likely have ramifications for laws in other jurisdictions. In contrast, America is seeing a tightening of abortion laws with some States even looking to ban abortion once a foetal heartbeat is detected (5-6 weeks). Some of the key provisions of most concern in the proposed Tasmanian legislation are:

• There is no legitimate mandate to remove abortion from the criminal code i.e. it is not just another operation, another life is at stake.

• There is no acknowledgment of the existence, or rights of, the unborn child.

• The lack of safeguards for women to ensure that 1. Truly informed consent is obtained, 2. Independent advice is given, and 3. Lack of coercion in decision making in assured.

• The subjectivity of doctors’ need to consider current and future economic and social circumstances of women they are assessing.

• Freedom of conscience issues – compulsion of doctors and counsellors to refer patients on to those without a conscientious objection to abortion.

• Freedom of speech issues – prosecution of protestors around abortion providers.

Please pray for those giving evidence highlighting the problems with the bill and for those on the committee hearing evidence, that they would have wisdom to see through the half truths and see clearly what is in the best interests of both mothers and babies.