Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7071

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (10:10): Too often in this place we have debates about issues and we circle the topic without actually naming it. Let us be clear about what we talking about today. We are not talking about gender selection and abortion. We are talking about abortion. Gender selection is a non-existent issue in the Australian community. This is not an issue that those of us who have worked as medical practitioners face. It is just not a reality. In all my time in medical practice, there has never been one occasion when I was confronted with a situation where I was being asked to refer someone for a termination on the basis of the gender of that foetus.

I have spoken to my colleagues about this, many of whom have worked for many years in general practice. It is simply not an issue. None of them have ever been confronted with a situation where this exists. You only need to look through the medical literature to understand that it is not an issue in medical practice. It is just not. Senator Moore indicated that there are some limited circumstances where there may be some inherited genetic defect that is associated with a particular sex, but that is not about gender selection. That is about a decision to terminate based on the viability of the foetus. It has nothing at all to do with gender selection. So let us name what we are talking about here today. Let's name it. This is a bill that goes to the heart of the woman's right to choose. That is what this bill is about.

I have to say I am a little annoyed that, with so much division within the Australian community on so many issues, here we are debating an issue on which the Australian community has largely spoken. Of course, there is some disagreement at the margins, but, largely, this is an issue where the Australian community has made its opinion very clear. The Australian community supports a woman's right to choose. That is what the Australian community supports. People will raise all sorts of arguments through this debate. People will say that this is a decision in which the Australian parliament has no role—that this is a decision between a woman and her health professional. Some people will say that somebody's religious views have no place in determining the laws that shape issues like a woman's right to choose. Some people will bring in the issue of rape and incest, and what options are available to women in those circumstances. They are all legitimate arguments, so I absolutely support each and every one of those. But my position on this topic comes from a more pragmatic perspective.

The simple fact is that, when you prevent women from having a termination, you do not reduce the number of terminations; you just put women at risk. That is the consequence of any law that attempts to prevent a woman from accessing a safe and medically supervised termination. The numbers do not change when abortion goes from being legal to being illegal. The only thing that changes is that women die. Let us not forget that, every year around the planet, tens of thousands of women die from unsafe abortions. That is what happens right now every year.

It is a confronting issue. When I was in my medical training, one of the rotations that we had through that training was to assist in a clinic that practised terminations. I suspect the rationale was that if you, as a medical practitioner, are going to be involved in referring women to have terminations then you should know what that involves. And it is confronting. I do not deny that for a moment. I have some very clear memories of that experience. I remember talking to some of the women beforehand. I remember the trauma and emotional turmoil that some of them were experiencing at that time; others approached it with a more matter-of-fact perspective. I remember talking to those women and acknowledging what a difficult time it was for many of them. I remember being in the theatre when the procedure was done, and I will not go into the detail, but it is a confronting procedure. It is a memory that stays with me.

I had to go away from that experience and reflect on my own views on the topic and how I would handle this as a medical practitioner. I came to the view quite easily when I understood that around the world every day denying women that option, as difficult as it is, was to actually accept that we would increase the number of unsafe abortions conducted every year. We have 20 million unsafe abortions going on every year around the planet. Not only do tens of thousands of women die; many are left with horrific complications from the 20 million unsafe abortions that are done because women cannot access medically supervised terminations.

If we are going to confront the reality of what an abortion means in a medically supervised environment, and those people who argue against a woman's right to choose are all too prepared to present us with the graphic illustration of that intervention, let us look at what denying that intervention means. It means that 20 million women around the world are going to be in an environment where a sharp object is inserted through the cervix in an effort to disrupt the amniotic sac. It means that some of those women will have their uterus perforated. It means that some of those women will end up with sepsis, infection and death. It means that some of those women will end up with uncontrolled bleeding. It means that we are inflicting serious damage on people where a safe and medically supervised alternative exists. Some women will take all sorts of cocktails and ingest all sorts of drugs that cause very serious damage in an effort to make a decision that is their right to make.

So let us be clear about what is going on here. Let us not cloak this argument in terms of a problem that does not exist. Gender selection is not a problem for the Australian community. As medical practitioners, we simply do not confront it. There is far too much division on too many topics of debate in this country, and we are experiencing some of those right now. It is with some pride that I see that the Australian community are united in their view. When you compare where the abortion debate in this country sits next to what is going on in the United States, it is with some pride that we have a much more developed and defendable position.

The Greens will not be supporting this bill. We will not be supporting any bill that restricts a woman's right to choose. We acknowledge that this is a decision that must be limited to a doctor or health professional and a woman who decides that she is going to make that decision. I do not believe that the deeply held religious views that are often at the heart of this debate have any place in the formation of public policy in this area and we should reject that. Ultimately, we must know that if we are to support this piece of legislation, the consequences are that more women will be exposed to unsafe abortions and all of the horrendous complications that flow from that and that more women will die. It is for that reason that the Australian Greens will not support this bill.