Abortion reform passed in Victoria, Australia

After much debate, mounting pressure from the Catholic Church and attempted legislative amendments, the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill was passed unamended by the Victorian Upper House on October 10.

A week earlier, on October 4, more than 200 people had rallied to support the bill, which would finally decriminalise abortion in Victoria. The rally was called to mobilise the strong pro-choice sentiment in Victoria in the lead-up to the bill being tabled in the Upper House on October 7.

Speakers at the rally included Colleen Hartland, Greens MLC, Resistance member Kimberly Yu and representatives from Socialist Alternative and Radical Women.

Hartland expressed the importance of never going back to women being forced into having backyard abortions, which can cause infections, maiming and death, as a result of lack of access due to abortion being a crime.

Hartland said polls suggested 80% of Australians support a woman’s right to choose, and called on representatives in parliament to reflect this.

Yu pointed out that although the current bill would be a step in the right direction in that it removes the act of abortion from the Crimes act, it still places restrictions on a woman’s rights to choose to have an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy. [See Yu’s speech on page 9.]

Other key points raised included the fact that it is often working-class women who may not have access to or be able to afford to have an abortion — but if a woman can’t afford an abortion how can she be expected to afford to raise a child? This highlights the importance of woman having control over their own bodies, including access to safe, free, legal abortion.

In the lead up to the Upper House debate, “pro-life” groups stepped up their public campaign to keep abortion as a crime. They held a 2000-strong rally on October 5, covering the city with posters depicting a foetus at different stages of pregnancy and sending abusive letters and messages to pro-choice MLCs.

The anti-abortion campaign, realising it could no longer stop the bill completely, then turned its attention towards amending the legislation.

Over 70 amendments were proposed in the Upper House, including mandatory counselling, parental consent, and removing the need for doctors with a “conscientious objection” to refer women onto another doctor without such an objection.

In recent weeks, the last amendment had been the focus of much media attention, with the Catholic Church threatening to shut down maternity wards in Catholic hospitals if they were forced to refer women to doctors who could provide them with an abortion.

The amendments were aimed at imposing further restrictions on women’s rights. The fact that the bill was passed unamended is a victory for the campaign for women to have control of their bodies.

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #770 15 October 2008.

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