A recent opinion poll has revealed surprisingly strong public opposition to late-term abortions, writes Richard Egan.
Fewer than 15 per cent of Australians back the continued funding of post-20-week abortions by Medicare. This finding comes from preliminary data from a random survey of 1,200 people conducted by independent research company Market Facts.
The same survey also shows that, while nearly 73 per cent of Australians are opposed to any funding of abortions at this stage of pregnancy, 63 per cent oppose funding of abortions performed after only 13 weeks of pregnancy.
About one in eight (12.5 per cent) of respondents answered that they didn’t know if they supported any Medicare funding of abortion. Nearly one in two (48.1 per cent) Australians are opposed to Medicare funding of abortion at any stage of pregnancy at all.
The remaining 39.4 per cent of Australians who give some support to Medicare funding of abortion are divided into 14 per cent who only support Medicare funding for abortions during the first trimester (up to 13 weeks) of pregnancy; a further 10 per cent who will also support Medicare funding up to 20 weeks of pregnancy; and only 15 per cent supporting continued funding of post-20-week abortions by Medicare.
This strong opposition to late-term abortion is partly explained by the finding that 56.2 per cent of Australians believe that “by 20 weeks of pregnancy, an unborn child is a human person with human rights”. Only 27.9 per cent asserted that they didn’t believe this. The remaining 15.8 per cent answered “don’t know” to this question.
In answers given to Senator Ron Boswell in the Senate on April 19, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing explained that there are varying definitions of a “late-term abortion”. One approach is to consider only abortions performed in the third trimester – that is, after 26 weeks of pregnancy – to be late-term abortions. Medicare makes no provision for funding third-trimester abortions, although between 10 and 19 such abortions have been carried out each year in Australian hospitals since 1995-96.
The other view is that a “late-term abortion” is one carried out after 20 weeks or more of pregnancy. In 2002-03, some 409 abortions between 20 and 25 weeks of pregnancy were performed in Australia. These abortions were provided at 38 public hospitals, and some private hospitals, around the country.
Senator Boswell also asked for information on the statistically significant reasons for post-20-week abortions. The reply indicated that, according to data from both South Australia and Victoria, about half of the post-20-week abortions performed in those states were for foetal or congenital abnormalities. In other words, they were eugenic abortions designed to kill before birth children with disabilities.
The other half of post-20-week abortions in these two states were said to be either for the “mental health” of the mother (in South Australia) or for “psychosocial” reasons (in Victoria). In each case, these terms simply cover abortions which are performed on request without any pretence of a medical indication.
Since Health Minister Tony Abbott first reignited the public debate on abortion in his James McAuley Address to the Democratic Club at Adelaide University, opponents of abortion both within and outside the Federal Parliament have been grappling with the pressing question, “What is to be done?”.
As Mr Abbott pointed out in his address, Christian politicians are not required to do the impossible. They cannot right every wrong. However, since Mr Abbott spoke out, a significant number of federal MPs, including De-Anne Kelly, Danna Vale, Alan Cadman and Senator Ron Boswell, have also expressed their support for measures to tackle the “national tragedy” of abortion.
The latest opinion poll, which appears to be the first in recent times to specifically test public support for a winding back of Medicare funding for abortion, clearly indicates that this is one area where federal MPs could take action that would enjoy broad public support.
The Prime Minister John Howard has made it plain that the mechanism for changing the present rules on abortion will need to be a private member’s bill. He has excluded the possibility of government action.
Nonetheless, he has insisted against some members of his party that the debate on abortion is appropriate and he has indicated that, should a federal MP bring forward a private member’s bill on abortion, he would ensure that it was given adequate time in the Parliament.
Based on the opinion poll results, federal MPs are likely to be considering a bill to wind back the threshold for Medicare funding for abortions from the present 26-week upper limit to a limit of 20 weeks (73 per cent support) or even 13 weeks (63 per cent) support.
If this can be achieved, it is likely to contribute to a cultural change that will, in time, see public opinion swing even further against Medicare funding for abortion, with the present level of opposition to any Medicare funding for abortion (48.1 per cent) increasing to a substantive majority, perhaps ultimately enabling the removal of all federal funding for abortion.
- Richard Egan