David van Gend’s article in On Line Opinion raises a number of interesting points that I will address, hopefully, in a more rational and less emotive manner.
Mr van Gend makes the case against all forms of abortion, not just RU486. That is his right. But the legality and the public support for the termination of pregnancies, under specific circumstances and in consultation with a doctor, is not in question here.
Abortion does not require the special approval of the Federal Health Minister and nor should it. No parliamentarian has the right to interfere in one of the most important, emotional and difficult decisions a woman and her partner may ever have to make.
In the same way, no parliamentarian should decide whether a drug should be available in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration was set up for that purpose. It has the expertise, the resources and the independence to properly evaluate the scientific evidence.
Mr van Gend suggests that the Democrats amendment would undo a unique level of public accountability, but the Federal Parliament currently has no role other than to receive the Health Minister’s advice that approval was granted. There is no capacity to overturn the decision, no requirement to provide reasons and no obligation for the minister to reveal that he or she has refused an application for RU486 or why. This is hardly accountable or transparent.
Mr van Gend and his lobby group want a return to the bad old days of guilt and shame, when backyard abortions were an everyday reality in Australia. But the real question is whether the risks and benefits associated with a newer, less invasive procedure should be scientifically evaluated and offered to women as an alternative to surgical abortion. I believe Australian women, once informed by this evaluation, will want to make that decision for themselves.
Lambasting women for having what he calls “social abortions”, Mr van Gend bemoans the lack of structural change that would allow women to carry these pregnancies to full term. The majority of Australians however, understand that decisions about the number and timing of children are anything but trivial and there are complex and usually compelling reasons for women to end unwanted pregnancies.
Mr van Gend and all those who wish to beat the anti-abortion, anti RU486 drum should be heard, but their battle to turn back the clock was lost years ago and it is now time for compassionate support for women who are in these difficult situations.
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