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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 910

Senator MELZER (Victoria) -I rise in the debate wondering where all the people who have made pious statements about unborn children were when we discussed in this House uranium mining, agent orange and insecticides and the hysteria of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that took us almost to the brink of war last week. We have listened to people making pious statements about children in the womb being inviolate and regarded as human beings. We have heard those statements from people who, when we raised the question of uranium mining and the fact that radiation would affect unborn generations, told us we were just being sentimental and hysterical. When we talked about agent orange and 2, 4, 5-T and all those other so-called herbicides that maimed unborn children, that cause them to be aborted, were these people up on their feet talking about the right of unborn children then? They could not be found. Yet all those matters affect unborn children. This schedule which we are told should be amended talks about recognising that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and the amendment would add from conception'.

I hope that in the future when we discuss some of these matters these people will remember that human beings have a right to inherit dignity from conception and will join with us to keep out of society those materials that presently so badly damage unborn children. The other part of the schedule that we are asked to talk about is that every human being has the inherent right to life from conception; that this right should be protected by law. I hope that the Government sees to it that the laws that come in the areas of uranium mining and of protecting human beings from chemicals also protect the unborn children from those sorts of materials. We are invited to listen to mealy-mouthed arguments over unborn children in the Human Rights Commission Bill.

The Bill is a toothless tiger and does very little to eliminate these very real threats to those either unborn or living. All that those amendments to the Bill will do will be to allow a very small segment of the population to overload the Human Rights Commission through its own bias, while they do nothing in the community to prevent unwanted children being born or to assist those children who are born to live decent and happy lives; they will do nothing about the real and apparent threats that exist in society to unborn children. The speech of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) included these sentences:

The amendment will not require the Commission to take the view that life begins at conception. However, it will be an important indicator to the Commission that in the view of both Houses of the Parliament the unborn child is to be accorded appropriate rights.

I find it extraordinary that we can stand up in this Parliament in 1980 and suggest that the Federal Parliament of Australia does not take into account the rights of unborn children to be nourished, to be born safely and to be given every chance to live a decent life. I find it extraordinary that we are saying that we need to have some other means of protecting the children of Australia from being unwanted, badly looked after, undernourished or from being allowed to be ill from being bashed and ill-used by people. I find it extraordinary that we should admit in 1980 that we need a Bill on human rights to protect the children of Australia. But in this very thin Bill that we have anyway, it seems to me that we will not have a chance to do anything about the children of Australia because this Bill will be jammed up with the bias of some people who want to impose their feelings about abortion onto the community.

What I really do not understand is that, if these amendments are put through, who is going to represent the foetus? Who is going to speak up for the foetus? Who is going to have the right to go to the Human Rights Commission and say that they are representing that month old or three month old small being that has been aborted? Will it be the father? In lots of instances that may be rather difficult. Are we going to get to the ludicrous position- I know it sounds ludicrous, but with some of the extremes that are being spoken of these days, I wonder whether it is- where, if a woman misses her first period, will she then front up to the public prosecutor and report that a foetus has been aborted, or may be aborted, or could be in a position to be aborted? That is the sort of position we are being put in.

What else does it mean? If one is talking about life, then one is talking about a foetus that is living from the moment it is there, and from the moment of conception it is there. Are we going to be convenient and just talk about a viable baby that may be born, or are we going to talk about a foetus that, in the minds of most women and in the mind of the community, can be aborted up until, say, four months? It seems to me that we are in an extraordinary position. It is not just the Right to Life people, I must say, who do not like abortion. At the moment it would appear that the people who associate themselves with the Right to Life Association are the only people who have a conscience about foetuses, children and abortions in this community. That is not so. Every woman in this community who has had a baby or has been pregnant has a conscience about those foetuses, and has a conscience about those children. Women do not like abortions, and that is what the men who stand up in this place and preach about abortion ought to remember. No woman likes abortion, and no woman has an abortion lightly.

It is all very well for pious statements to be made about when a baby is viable and when it is not. Women do not like abortions but they do not like extreme views about abortions either. They do not have them lightly, but while society goes on ignoring the problems that women have, then women will be forced to go on having abortions. No Bill, no law, and no human rights commission will stop them. The thing that is going to stop abortions and is going to stop women having to have abortions is a society that understands the problems which women have, that understands that it is not easy to be a 15 year old who is trying to bring up a baby and that it is not easy being a 1 5 year old or a 25 year old who has to give her baby up for adoption. It is not easy being a woman who has had five or six, or three or four children, and finds herself tired, worn out, torn about and deformed by the work she has to do to keep her children, having to front up to an abortionist and say, 'I have to get rid of it'. If we deny women the right to have those abortions in dignity and in clean surroundings, then they will go back to the coathanger and the knitting needle in the dirty back yard. We will go back to having wards in the women's hospital that stink of rotting flesh. Women know that abortions are dangerous, they know they may die and they know that they kill their babies. But society forces women into that position. No amount of pious talk about human rights or about when life starts will solve any of that. Only real policies to allow women to prevent themselves having children, to have children with dignity, to know that they can feed them, clothe them and look after them will stop abortions.

As I said, women know they carry a life, but they are prepared to take the responsibility for that. Senator Teague was very patronising about the motion that was passed at the National Women's Advisory Council conference last week. Whether Senator Teague interprets those words this way or that way, the women who were at the conference know that there was a very representative collection of women there who represented a very large number of women in Australia. They said clearly and unequivocally that they want the right to control their own fertility. If Senator Teague does not know what those words mean, I can assure him that there is a vast number of women across Australia who do know what the words mean, who are going to take that right, who have taken the right up to this moment and who will not be put off. It seems to me that rather than spend the day arguing about when life commences or about when life ceases, we would have been better engaged in ensuring that the very real problems that women in Australia have are dealt with. We should see to it that women- people- in Australia have a very real choice to make about the human rights of all people who are born or who may be born into this society.

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