Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Australia Abortion Law Reform

The Australian state Victoria, home to Melbourne, is currently working to decriminalize abortion. Abortion in much of Australia currently remains in a legal gray area. In many states, the procedure is written into law as being illegal, but abortions are still performed in a medical setting thanks to a common law established by a 1969 Supreme Court ruling. Though the ruling provides some protection, there are still problems with the current arrangement, including severe restrictions on late term abortions for medical reasons. Doctors who perform abortions are also still at risk of being brought to court or before the medical board.

The bill is up for debate soon, and unsurprisingly the issue has been polarizing among politicians. But hospital staff tend to support less a strict abortion law:

DOCTORS, nurses and counsellors from the Royal Women's Hospital have stepped into the abortion law debate, saying decriminalisation is vital and opposing any compulsory counselling or cooling-off period.

They are worried that next week, when the State Parliament starts to debate the legislation, there could be ill-informed amendments that would add unnecessary trauma to an already difficult decision.

The hospital is central to the abortion issue, performing about 3000 of Victoria's 20,000 abortions a year, including some late term. In a 2000 case still cited by Right to Life campaigners, its doctors were investigated (and cleared of any wrongdoing) over the termination at 32 weeks' gestation of a foetus with dwarfism.

In a statement, published at theage.com.au, 18 staff members involved with abortion services at the hospital say they are necessary for women's health.

They say there is no evidence abortion legislation will make abortion "easier" or increase the number of abortions. "It defies belief that clarifying the law would make more women seek abortions," the statement says.

Three of the signatories told The Age the proposed legislation would result in less distress, delay and stigmatisation for women who need to terminate.

If the bill is passed into law, as is expected, it would be a great step forward for women's rights and reproductive health. The experience of having an unplanned pregnancy or needing an abortion for health reasons is stressful enough. What women and families need in this situation is quality, compassionate health care -- not political interference.

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