Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

High price to be paid if abortion reform bid fails

By Leslie Cannold - posted Friday, 17 August 2007

I love Right to Life President Margaret Tighe. After years of dealing with anti-choice activists who pretend their feminists, researchers, and medical ethicists - anything but foot soldiers for God - her straight-talking misogyny is like a breath of fresh air. With Margaret, women who seek abortions know just where they stand.

Take her response to thes announcement by Labor MP Candy Broad that she will introduce a Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise abortion. "If this legislation is passed, wild ducks in Victoria will have more protection than unborn children."

Actually, wild ducks have no legal protection in Victoria, but such comments provide a pithy summary of how Tighe and the tiny minority of Australians who agree with her rate women’s capacities as ethical decision makers (if you missed it, we’re the sporting shooters from which our fetuses need legal protection). From such disdainful views of women’s moral agency flow anti-choice enthusiasms for the perpetuation and enforcement of criminal laws they know don’t stop women having abortions, but maximise the shame and pain they experience in doing so.


Some Victorians believe that the current confused system - where the criminal law prescribes jail for women and doctors who “procure miscarriages”, but the common law forgives their felonious behaviour in cases where the abortion is deemed proportional and necessary to prevent serious danger to the women’s life or health - is working just fine.

But they’re wrong. The retention of statutes only rarely enforced makes the law an ass. It also allows anti-choice crusaders wedged at various points in the legal system to prosecute whenever they choose.

This is what happened in 1986 to Queensland Drs Peter Bayliss and Dawn Cullen, in 1998 to West Australian Drs Victor Chan and Hoh Peng Lee and to the former head of the ultrasound unit at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne who was pursued for six and a half years by anti-choice Liberal politician Julian McGuaran before finally being cleared last year. And when one doctor is prosecuted the rest get nervous, reducing the services they provide and so undercutting women’s access to timely, professional care.

But love it or hate it, the introduction of Ms Broad’s bill has made history of the current legal framework for abortion. Access and equity for women can only go forwards - or backwards - from here. This is because it was one thing for successive parliaments to refuse to debate decriminalisation, but would be quite another for the 2007 Victorian Parliament to affirm of the criminality of aborting women and their doctors.

Should Ms Broad’s attempt to repeal abortion from the criminal code fail, in other words, the costs to women and couples of reproductive age could be devastating. Not only will the stigma attached to abortion increase, but access will likely decline as medicos retreat to their bunkers to await signs of what the renewed legal landscape holds for them and their patients.

Unplanned pregnancy is a fact of life. The World Health Organisation estimates that even if couples contracepted perfectly every time, there would be nearly six million accidental pregnancies every year.


At the heart of the debate on repeal is the question of who should decide. When Health Minister Bronwyn Pike insists abortion can’t be pulled out of the Crimes Act without something else being put it (rendering the entire descriminalisation project moot in one fell swoop) she stands as one with Margaret Tighe in assessing politicians, doctors - anyone but the pregnant woman herself - as best qualified to know when an abortion is justified.

The Premier and Treasurer Brumby’s support for transferring existing common law restrictions to the Health Act is more of the same. As well, they show the government, even at this early stage of the debate, as running scared.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Premier, Brumby and the supposedly pro-choice Health Minister stand up for women for a change. I mean, what else could they possibly be saying by insisting on the need for legal “safeguards” to prevent “unfettered access” than that the law is the only thing that stops women getting pregnant willy-nilly for the sheer pleasure of being able to abort?

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Age on July 20, 2007.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

46 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Leslie Cannold is a writer, columnist, ethicist and academic researcher. She is the author of the award-winning What, No Baby? and The Abortion Myth. Her historical novel The Book of Rachael was published in April by Text.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Leslie Cannold

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Leslie Cannold
Article Tools
Comment 46 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy