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Senate passes private members' bill on RU486.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

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PM

 

Thursday 9 February 2006

Senate passes private members' bill on RU486

 

MARK COLVIN: After a controversial and divisive debate in the Senate, the abortion drug RU-486 is one step closer to being assessed for use in Australia. 

 

Supporters feared that the vote was narrowing after the Prime Minister's intervention yesterday but in the end the motion passed by 45 votes to 28. 

 

It didn't begin as a debate on abortion rights in Australia, but it ended up like that: both sides saw this decision as an important "line in the stand".  

 

It was a turbulent couple of days, as befitted one of the rare conscience votes in the Federal Parliament. And there's more to come. 

 

The bill still has to pass the House of Representatives where the numbers are much tighter. 

 

But for now Senators who supported the drug are relieved that at least one hurdle is clear. 

 

Gillian Bradford reports from Canberra. 

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: In the end, it wasn't the tight race supporters of RU-486 had feared. But while the numbers fell quite comfortably, supporters like Senator Lyn Allison were more relieved than ecstatic.  

 

LYN ALLISON: It's a win for women, it's a win for families and it's most certainly a win for the Senate.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: There was angry resignation from those who lost the vote, summed up by the Nationals leader in the Senate, Ron Boswell.  

 

RON BOSWELL: This is a dangerous way to have an abortion. I'm disappointed. I know many of my constituents will be disappointed and I think the elected representation of the Westminster system that we have in Australia has been badly, badly let down today.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: The hours of debate have been intensely personal and passionate. Two Senators have talked about their own personal experiences with abortion, while others like Bill Heffernan have spoken more plainly. 

 

BILL HEFFERNAN: This drug is designed to knock over babies.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: It's that sort of language that's angered Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.  

 

AMANDA VANSTONE: To those people who choose to list details of adverse reactions that might have been had to someone who's taken RU-486, to list off deaths that might be attributed to it, their argument would carry more weight if they equally listed off the adverse reactions and deaths from surgical abortions, and for that matter, from any other medical intervention.  

 

Life is a risky business. Yes, things go wrong, but where they go wrong is not necessarily an indicator of what we should do for those for whom it will go right.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: The Senate debate has also proven there are no Party lines when it comes to a vote on RU-486.  

 

The former leader of the Government in the Senate, Robert Hill, is a supporter of the bill. 

 

ROBERT HILL: Where women require an abortion, I believe they should be treated with sensitivity and support at what must be an extraordinarily difficult and emotionally stressful time.  

 

I believe they have a right to access whatever procedural options that are safe and can be provided by their medical practitioner. I don't therefore see a role for the Minister of Health in the process.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: There were some interesting bed-fellows. Several Labor Senators sided with their more conservative colleagues in voting against the bill.  

 

Opposition Finance Spokesman Stephen Conroy explained why he went with the No case.  

 

STEPHEN CONROY: I believe the process should be more open and transparent and accountable and that's why I cannot support the bill, a bill that simply says we give it over to scientists and doctors.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Nationals Senator Fiona Nash is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. She's been especially irritated some of her colleagues have depicted the Therapeutic Goods Administration as a bunch of bureaucrats, ill qualified to deal with the complexities of RU-486.  

 

FIONA NASH: I say to those who think that those people aren't capable of properly assessing this drug, that you are absolutely wrong.  

 

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Supporters of the drug are cautiously optimistic the bill will pass the House of Representatives when it heads there next week, though no doubt the Senators who lost the case in the Upper House will be urging their colleagues to stop this drug becoming more widely available.  

 

MARK COLVIN: That was Gillian Bradford reporting.