Today we will debate the DLP’s Infant Viability Bill bought which seeks to drastically change Victorian’s abortion laws. It seeks to ciminalise doctors for helping patients and attempts to inject into the parliament the most outdated, anti-women and conservative attitudes of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations. Here is my opinion piece in the HERALD SUN today: –
THIS WEEK the Victorian parliament will consider a Bill that will have far reaching effects on women’s health choices in this state. The only representative of the Democratic Labour Party in the parliament will present the Infant Viability Bill to the Upper House. Most of what we have seen in the media about this piece of legislation has been solely from the viewpoint of its creators.
That is largely because most of those with an interest in it, whether if be women’s health groups or political parties, don’t want to give it more oxygen than is needed.
Those behind this draconian legislation will tell you it’s about protecting “mothers and unborn babies” (read foetus) but it’s not. With a vote coming on this week, Victorians should be aware of the grave consequences of seeing even parts of this Bill become law. It is crucial to separate the facts from the fiction. Late-term abortions in Victoria are rare, difficult to access and largely performed in serious and traumatic situations. They are neither undertaken nor provided lightly and their use is legalised in line with international understandings of women’s rights to health and privacy. This Bill will see doctors locked up for choosing the health of a woman over the health of a foetus and provides no defence for miscalculation of gestation, let alone a woman’s life being in danger.
There is a range of concerning issues in the IVB such as its disingenuous foundations, its dangerous implications for women seeking medical assistance and its attempts to criminalise doctors for doing what is best for their patients.
That is before we even consider that the legislation is based largely on religious ideology, not legal authority and certainly not what’s best for women. Doctors will face up to five years in jail if they choose to help women who require, for a range of reasons, access to late-term abortions. It will force a woman whose much-wanted foetus is so malformed that it will not even live a few hours after birth, to carry it full-term. It is beyond cruel.
The Bill is not just a straightforward attempt to try to determine if and when a women’s personal responsibility in her pregnancy ends and where the state’s takes over. It’s not just a Bill being put forward by a group of concerned citizens who are represented by a local member.
This is a Bill that bristles with the patronising dogma of the religious Right. It is lifted straight from the US conservative anti-abortion playbook.
It attempts to inject into the parliament the most outdated, anti-women and conservative attitudes of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations. Worse, it does so while claiming to protect women, who in reality will be forced to turn to dangerous, underground means of exercising their bodily autonomy.
In fact this Bill will increase abortions. Currently, most women have a scan at 20 weeks to check for growth and potential abnormalities. Sometimes the scans pick up on potentially serious issues or malformations that may lead to a child having no quality of life, or living for only a few minutes. Sometimes in following weeks those issues correct themselves but given the decision-making process is quickened, the IVB will force women to choose between terminating a pregnancy while it remains legal or risk a traumatising birth and subsequent loss. Imagine the distress that will cause.
Most MPs I speak to don’t want this debate. The debate around our abortion laws has been settled. That was the case in 2008 and this year Victoria’s abortion laws were further strengthened when the Andrews Government passed the Safe Access Zones laws to protect women accessing safe and legal terminations. It’s worth noting that those same people who have been harassing, intimidating and distressing women and their families at those clinics are among the creators and supporters of this Bill. These same proponents refuse to accept the laws we have in place and they refuse to accept the public opinion that is overwhelmingly in favour of a woman’s right to decide, with her doctor, what to do with her own body, free from government or religious interference.
Let’s not change what women have fought so hard for. That is, safe, legal access to healthcare, where doctors, not priests and their flock, decide what is in the best interests of women’s health.
Fiona Patten is a member of Victoria’s Upper House and Leader of the Australian Sex Party.