Women are not adequately warned of the many medical risks of abortion, such as psychological damage, writes Charles Francis QC.
In July this year, Victorian state MP Candy Broad foreshadowed her bill to decriminalise all abortion. The then Labor Premier Mr Steve Bracks said he believed Victoria’s abortion system was effective; but added that, if it could be improved by complete decriminalisation and dealt with under the Health Act instead, he would support decriminalisation.
Similar views were subsequently expressed by his colleague Mr John Brumby. Liberal Opposition leader Ted Baillieu indicated some support, but said he wanted to see details. Late in September, Premier Brumby referred the issue to the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC).
The pro-abortion lobby have been pushing hard to decriminalise all abortion. They would have been greatly cheered by the VLRC’s restricted terms of reference. The commission was only asked to provide options to clarify the existing operation of the law and to remove from the Crimes Act offences relating to terminations when performed by a qualified medical practitioner.
Many drew the inference that Mr Brumby wants the VLRC to recommend all abortions performed by medical practitioners be decriminalised.
Before the VLRC proposes any recommendation, however, it is very important that the commission be fully informed on what is happening in the Victorian abortion industry today, and in particular, the consequences to women. Similar information is needed by our MPs before they vote on any proposed legislation.
It requires no genius or even a law degree to realise that before you legalise anything, you need to know just what it is you are legalising and be able to make some assessment of possible consequences.
Contrary to Bracks’s opinion, Victoria’s abortion system is a disaster. Neither the medical profession nor the government exercises any proper control over it. Most abortionists are motivated solely by greed and have little concern for the welfare of the women upon whom they operate. Women are not adequately warned of the many medical risks of abortion, such as psychological damage, nor are they given any proper counselling or appropriately advised of other options.
Recently, my wife Babette and I appeared before the VLRC chairman, Professor Neil Rees. He listened courteously as we raised some of these issues, but appears to see himself constrained by the terms of reference.
Deeply concerned by the present terms, we consider the following 10 terms should be added to the existing two terms:
1) Introduce anti-coercion legislation to ensure that when a woman seeks an abortion the decision is her own choice and is not being sought by reason of pressure applied to her by other persons, such as her husband, partner or family.
2) Introduce legislation which will ensure that before any abortion takes place the woman concerned:
i) receives proper independent counselling informing her of the risks involved and of other available options, and
ii) has an adequate cooling-off period before any final decision is made.
3) Introduce legislation which will ensure that the medical risks (both physical and psychological) of the abortion are adequately explained both orally and/or in writing by the abortion-provider prior to any abortion being performed.
4) Introduce legislation requiring or enabling a woman to see an ultra-sound of her unborn child prior to any abortion taking place.
5) Introduce legislation requiring that no abortions be performed outside public hospitals, and that no abortions be performed by anyone not a salaried medical practitioner.
6) Introduce legislation requiring that, when it is proposed to perform an abortion on a woman under the age of 16 years, the abortion-provider must first obtain parental consent.
7) Introduce legislation that where a woman under the age of 16 years is seeking an abortion, the abortion-provider is required to inform the police if a statutory rape has occurred.
8) Introduce legislation that when an unlawful termination occurs, the woman concerned be given immunity from prosecution.
9) Introduce legislation requiring that where any termination is being proposed after 20 weeks’ gestation, adequate legal safeguards are provided so that the unborn child is given the maximum opportunity of survival.
10) Amend the Victorian Wrongs Act to enable women in Victoria to sue for damages
a) where by reason of negligence the person or persons providing the abortion have caused injury or damage to the woman concerned, and/or
b) where there has been no prior warning given by the person or persons providing the abortion of the material risks of performing the abortion.
Urged to write
Victorian News Weekly readers are urged to write to Premier John Brumby, Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Mr Rob Hulls, and Opposition leader Mr Ted Baillieu, and their local MLAs and MLCs, suggesting that the VLRC’s terms of reference should be widened.
Submissions to the VLRC (GPO Box 4637, Melbourne, Vic 3001) close on November 9, 2007.
– Charles Francis, AM QC, is a retired Melbourne barrister and former Victorian state MP.