May 7th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Safe Schools: Sorry, chef, but the entire sex-ed menu's off!

CANBERRA OBSERVED Mild unpopularity of Libs preferable to ALP slogans

EDITORIAL Turnbull's stuttering election gambit

ENERGY Media shows no interest in Shorten's renewables plan

LEGISLATION Viability bill at least a baby step for the babies

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Intifada of the Knife: Israel's unknown war

FAMILY AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Gender symmetry: women can be as abusive as men

ECONOMICS AND POLITICS Overhauling Australia will require more than a tinker

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Media gush over study only to find same-sex parents more irritable

RESEARCH The scientific objectivity of gender difference (Part One of two parts)

CINEMA Mowgli takes on the lore: The Jungle Book

BOOK REVIEW A sliver of hope

BOOK REVIEW A primer on Western civilisation

BOOK REVIEW Of ships and shots

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Viability bill at least a baby step for the babies

by John Morrissey

News Weekly, May 7, 2016

On May 25 the Victorian Legislative Council will debate the state’s most important piece of legislation since the Abortion Law Reform Act in 2008, which gave the state the most permissive laws in the Western world to terminate the lives of unborn babies.

Rachel Carling-Jenkins

Member for Western Metropolitan Victoria Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins has moved a bill to ban abortion after 24 weeks gestation and require holistic care for both mother and child. Her Infant Viability Bill focuses on positive measures, with any penalties involved being imposed on health professionals rather than mothers.

As she put it in her Second Reading speech: “It is a bill which promotes holistic care for women, promoting a support structure – a deliberate, person-centred approach – to address the current gaps in our inadequate pregnancy health-care system. It is a bill which supports babies from the time they have reached the age of viability – promoting again a complementary approach of deliberate, person-centred care.”

In 2008 the current law, touted as bringing legislation up to date with practice, not only removed abortion from the Crimes Act, but allowed terminations to be carried out up to the time of birth, on any grounds, requiring only the signatures of two medical practitioners after 24 weeks gestation. Although current figures for late-term abortions are unavailable and those from a notorious private clinic were never published, some rare statistics and anecdotal evidence from Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital suggest a sharp upswing since 2008.

Regrettably, most Australians today have been conditioned to believe that women have a human right to abortion, but there is considerable ambivalence. For example, the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute’s major survey in 2006 revealed that Australians also believed that there are too many abortions and that women should be better informed about the risks of and alternatives to abortion, and the services available to help them. A March 2016 Galaxy Poll showed only 25 per cent in favour of abortion after 20 weeks gestation.

In the United States, abortion after 20-24 weeks is prohibited in 43 states, underlining how extreme is the position adopted by the state of Victoria.

Popular Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi, with her trademark empathy for mainstream Australian attitudes on social issues, reflected this ambivalence in a recent opinion piece (“I’m pro-choice, but I won’t back late-term abortions”, April 13), expressing her abhorrence at the destruction of viable babies.

She speculated that this could reasonably be expected to be a majority attitude, with opposition likely to come mainly from hard-line ideologues. The strength of the latter in the Government especially is likely to be the main obstacle to Dr Carling-Jenkins’ bill.

The bill itself requires medical practitioners to refer pregnant women to appropriate support services, to take all reasonable steps to preserve the life of a child born alive after 24 weeks gestation, and to amend the 2008 act to allow abortions only up to 24 weeks. It also seeks to amend the Crimes Act to prohibit late-term (that is, after 24 weeks) abortions and prescribes penalties for medical practitioners and hospital and clinic operators. No charges would be laid against a woman consenting to or assisting in a late-term abortion on herself.

Reintroduction of abortion into the Crimes Act could be difficult, however, as the Abortion Law Reform Act was represented as primarily a landmark change to decriminalise the procedure, as no convictions (of women or medical practitioners) had been secured for decades. Yet the positives in this bill for pregnant women far outweigh the penalties for providers.

Pro-Life purists might protest that Dr Carling-Jenkins’ bill is too timid in its scope, but it is no reflection on her that she is focused on what is possible. She has amended her original 20-week cut-off to 24 weeks in order to address the law as it stands, which even many who identify as pro-choice find abhorrent.

The bill envisages healthy viable babies being born to mothers whose distress in pregnancy has been relieved. The term “viability” reflects the reality of “miracle” neo-nates surviving from as early as 22 weeks gestation. The bill would be a “baby step”, as one supporter described it to me, similar to the long-term strategy that has done so much to turn the tide in U.S. states such as Mississippi.

Herald Sun reporter Matt Johnston (“Muddy waters swirling around abortion bill”, April 14) provided a realistic assessment of the chances of success for the Infant Viability Bill. Voting will be tight in the upper house, with Greens and Sex Party opposed, the Coalition allowed a conscience vote, and a free vote for Labor members problematic.

If successful, the bill will then have to be moved in the Legislative Assembly, where there are no Democratic Labour Party members and the Labor Government has a clear majority. Premier Andrews could refuse leave to debate it, bringing on a division, wherein it is unclear whether Labor members would have a conscience vote. Then would any members of the Government cross the floor? Deputy-Premier James Merlino was particularly heroic in opposing the heinous abortion legislation in 2008 – but that was then.

Whatever the outcome, Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins has brought the issue of abortion law reform into the public arena once more. MPs are astounded at the more than 20,000 signed-up petitioners to members of each house of Parliament, numbers unprecedented for many decades and far more significant in their eyes than electronic GetUp-style campaigns.

A rally outside Parliament House is planned for Saturday May 21, at 2pm. Victorians who care about the worst abortion laws in the free world must flood Melbourne in similar numbers to show the government that we mean it. Rachel and the future children whom she champions deserve no less.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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