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Minister does not support changes to current abortion laws.

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Thursday 3 February 2005

Minister does not support changes to current abortion laws


TONY EASTLEY: Another senior member of the Howard Government has said there should be n o change to the current system of Medicare funded abortions. Debate about abortions re-emerged after Queensland National Party Senator Ron Boswell released details on a raft of questions he's put to the Health Minister, Tony Abbot. 


Since then different Ministers and senior Liberals have all tried to hose down the issue, the latest, Federal Family and Community Services Minister, Kay Patterson. 


Senator Patterson, who's also the Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues, says she's consulted her colleagues, canvassing their opinions and says there's a strong consensus for no change to existing laws.  


She's speaking here with Alexandra Kirk. 


KAY PATTERSON: Look, the overwhelming view of my Coalition female colleagues is that the status quo should remain. That's the view I have as well with regard to Medicare funding for abortion.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So that's based on, what, supporting the women's right to choose? 


KAY PATTERSON: Supporting a right to choose, a right to choose in appropriate circumstances where they've got appropriate counselling. But also that they shouldn't interfere in somebody else's decision.  


Although some people expressed personally a very strong opposition to abortion for themselves, they all indicate it's a very difficult decision that people make. They don't make it lightly.  


But they did express concern that we need to make sure that people have appropriate education as young people about the implications and their responsibilities, both men and women, young men and women.  


But also that people in the situation of facing a pregnancy which is unwanted, that they have appropriate counselling.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now your colleague, Joe Hockey, the Minister for Human Services, has raised the prospect of restructuring the tax or family benefits because he says the majority, or there is a trend of older women having abortions and deciding that they can't afford, say, a third or fourth child. Do you think that they should be given more financial support?  


KAY PATTERSON: Well I've discussed this issue with Mr Hockey and he was concerned at the… or interested in why the number of women over 35 has increased.  


He didn't take into account, although he's indicated to me that one reason may be that there's more people of that age having babies, more amniocenteses, more likelihood of a baby that has some sort of abnormality, and that may be one of the reasons.  


But he's saying is another reason financial concerns, and if it is, should we be doing something about it? That's an appropriate discussion to have, about why they've increased, but there could be a number of reasons for that. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And do you think that, say, older women should be given more financial assistance?  


KAY PATTERSON: We've just given women another, or families, another billion dollars in childcare benefit or childcare tax rebate. What we've got to do, we've just given families increased family assistance, families are getting more assistance now than they ever had, but what we need to do is if we do get these disparities in figures that there's an increase in the number of women over 35 having abortions, I think it's quite appropriate for Mr Hockey to discuss and look at why that might be the case.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And do you think it's likely that the Government would increase financial assistance to women in order to discourage them from having abortions? 


KAY PATTERSON: Look, I'm not going to enter into that. I think we need to have a look at why there's an increase. I think it's an interesting point that he's raised.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think the Government should be doing more to discourage women from having abortions, or to reduce the number of abortions? 


KAY PATTERSON: I think what we need to do is to make sure that people are adequately informed, have appropriate counselling. Then they have to make the decision between them and their doctors.  


TONY EASTLEY: Senator Kay Patterson, the Family and Community Services Minister and also the Minister assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues.