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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 888


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (20:53): I stand tonight in solidarity with women around the world. Regardless of where they live I stand by their rights to access reproductive counselling and other sexual health services. I stand by a woman's right to choose. I reaffirm this stance in light of the reinstatement of the global gag rule by US President Trump on 23 January—a rule imposed on women around the world by the US government. I am deeply concerned by this move to restrict family planning advice. The implications are far reaching and punishing for the most vulnerable women.

This rule prohibits international organisations such as HIV/AIDS clinics, birth control providers and other planned parenthood organisations from receiving US aid if they have any involvement in abortion services—including counselling, referrals or advocacy. The rule applies even if the organisation is using their own funds in this area of service. If a provider refuses to sign the gag a loss of funding and removal of access to donated contraceptives, including condoms, will follow. Marie Stopes International has estimated the funding loss will lead to 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,000 maternal deaths—all during President Trump's first term. Family planning organisations and NGOs in Australia are equally speaking out. Family Planning Alliance Australia has said:

FPAA recognises that this decision has wide reaching and damaging impacts. The oppression of women and the removal of autonomous decision making about their sexual and reproductive health has flow on social, economic and political impacts to the whole community.

Similarly, Marjorie Newman-Williams, vice-president of Marie Stopes International, has explained:

All the medical evidence, as well as everything we know from our daily interactions with women, is unequivocal: If you take safe abortion services out of the reproductive health care package, it exposes women to risk.

The last time this global gag rule was in place it did immense harm. It endangered health systems and it endangered the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable women on this planet. Services such as maternal and child health care, access to contraceptives, sexual advice, STI and HIV testing and counselling are all impacted. In many cases clinics are the only places where women can access sexual health information and contraceptives.

Shackling access to terminations does not result in fewer terminations—it makes the procedures unsafe. Denying access to life-saving family planning and reproductive health and HIV services endangers women's lives. It stigmatises women and criminalises them. It leads to irresponsible practices and increased maternal deaths, and it violates women's rights. The World Health Organisation estimates that 22 million women experience unsafe abortions each year, the vast majority of whom are in developing countries.

Sustainable Development Goal 3.7 ensures universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services. It is an acknowledgement of the right of women to autonomous decisions. The United Nations Population Fund believes access to quality sexual and reproductive healthcare, including voluntary family planning, can reduce maternal deaths by one-third and child deaths by as much as one-fifth. Further, poverty and reproductive health are intricately related. Supportive family planning enables the world's poorest countries to speed up their economic growth and social development, and create the conditions for raising living standards and reducing poverty.

Of course this global gag rule has been enforced before, under the Bush administration, and it was backed up unashamedly by the Howard government. Indeed one of President Barack Obama's first acts as President was to reverse the global gag rule on family planning organisations. I am proud that when Labor were in government we reversed the Howard government's prohibition on Australian international development assistance for organisations that delivered family planning services. I am proud that funding was doubled under Labor for family planning services directed towards women in developing countries.

I applaud the Dutch government for announcing it is planning to launch an international fund to support services defunded under the US global gag rule. As a country they have recognised women have the right to make their own family planning decisions. Tonight I call on the Turnbull government to follow the lead of the Dutch and Belgian governments and also pledge funds to help plug this $600 million per year funding gap left behind by the US global gag rule. I understand there is a pledging conference scheduled for around the beginning of March, and I have written to Minister Julie Bishop to call on our government to lend our support to women and girls around the world affected by this global gag rule.

The global gag rule is an attack on women. It sends a message to the world that women do not have the right to make autonomous decisions, that their judgment cannot be trusted. It is a dangerous precedent to set. When we value women's lives as less important we remove their rights and choices.

It is timely that it is Valentine's Day. The United Nations Population Fund launched a campaign around Valentine's Day. Their campaign highlights the plight of child brides, the practise that ensnares tens of thousands of girls around the world every day. It calls on us to say 'I don't' instead of 'I do'. As outlined in the report by Plan International Australia Just married, just a child: child marriage in the Indo-Pacific region, girls who are married at a young age are exposed to early and unwanted pregnancies and often face a higher risk of STIs and HIV. Many girls also suffer physical, emotional and sexual violence. Complications of pregnancy are the second leading killer of girls aged 15 to 19. In developing countries where child brides are most prevalent nine out of 10 births to adolescent girls take place within a marriage. In Nepal, more than 48 per cent of adult women report that they were married before they reached the age of 18.

Gender inequality is a leading cause of the high rate of child brides. These girls need high-quality services and support. Health clinics provide much more than critical sexual education: they are a haven, a place of support where girls can learn to advocate for their own rights. This US global gag rule is a barrier to women and girls throughout the world accessing these services. It is a barrier to those child brides who need that support.

Voluntary family planning empowers women and girls to finish their education, join the workforce and empower their communities. When women are empowered, communities are empowered. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, which helps end the poverty cycle. Educated women are more likely to become economically self-reliant and engaged in their community, which builds a culturally rich society. Women around the world contribute extraordinary achievements and deserve and demand to be respected. The global gag rule is an attack on women everywhere. It demeans women, which is why I stand in solidarity with the communities affected by the global gag rule. (Time expired)