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Thursday, 16 February 2006
Page: 39

Mr BALDWIN (11:45 AM) —I rise today to speak on the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005. The purpose of this bill is to transfer the approvals process from the Minister for Health and Ageing to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. However, the debate has broadened to include the drug RU486, women’s rights, the claimed advantages for rural women and the actual abortion debate. I will now attempt in the time available to address these issues separately, as they have been raised as a part of the debate.

First, I will go to the issue of transferring responsibility for approval to the TGA. From the start, let me say I am against this bill for a number of reasons. I do not believe in abrogating my responsibility as an elected representative of the community on issues as important as life itself. The drug RU486 that we are debating is an abortifacient, yet it is the same drug prescribed under the name mifepristone that helps preserve life as a therapeutic drug in the treatment of certain cancers and tumours. The TGA rightly has the power to approve drugs that preserve life, but when there are moral issues attached to the use of a drug—and by that I mean the use of a drug that ends life—then the process of ministerial approval, the scrutiny of the parliament and the judgment by the community of those that made that decision at the ballot box is the correct process. On the issue of the drug RU486—and I admit that, unlike some of my colleagues in this House, I am not a doctor—I have extracted the following from expert opinion. To quote Edouard Sakiz, the former chairman of French drug company Roussel-UCLAF, which developed RU486:

As Abortifacient procedures go RU486 is not at all easy to use. In fact it is more complex to use than the technique of vacuum extraction ... A woman who wants to end her pregnancy has to ‘live’ with her abortion for at least a week using this technique. It’s an appalling psychological ordeal.

According to Dr Michael Green, Professor of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard University:

RU486 had 10 times the mortality risk of surgical abortion in the first 7 weeks of pregnancy (which is its recommended time limit for effective use, although even then between 5% and 8% of women will need a follow-up surgical abortion).

So dangerous is RU486 to women’s health that pro-choice radical feminists such as Dr Renate Klein, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Deakin University in Victoria, are adamantly opposed to the drug. She describes RU486 as ‘a modern version of backyard abortion—unsafe, painful and deeply scary’.

How does RU486 work? It is reported in journals that RU486 is a synthetic steroid which works by blocking the effects of progesterone, the natural hormone which is required to maintain the lining of the uterus during pregnancy. RU486 starves the womb of progesterone, the lining of the womb breaks down and it is lost along with the developing embryo or foetus. Up to four visits to a hospital or a clinic are necessary to complete the process. The success rate of RU486 on its own is not high. For pregnancies of up to nine weeks gestation mifepristone is normally taken by mouth on its own. If the embryo or foetus has not come away within 36 to 48 hours, a prostaglandin is given. For pregnancies of 13 to 24 weeks gestation, mifepristone is taken by mouth. This is followed by a prostaglandin by vagina. If the abortion does not occur within 24 hours after the start of treatment, a repeat course of gemeprost will be given. In both cases, if the treatment fails, the baby will be aborted by a surgical method—that is, either vacuum aspiration or dilation and curettage.

There are side effects. Is this safe? According to the journal, the use of RU486 may cause any of the following: haemorrhage requiring blood transfusion, severe pain requiring strong pain killers, incomplete abortion, rupture of the uterus, vaginal bleeding, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, muscle weakness, dizziness, flushing, chills, backache, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, palpitations, rise in temperature and a fall in blood pressure. What I am illustrating here is that the number and diverse nature of the side effects of RU486 point to the fact that these are powerful chemicals. In fact, Dr Germaine Greer, speaking at the Best for Women gynaecologists and obstetricians conference in Sydney in 2002, described RU486 as a powerful and unpleasant succession of experiences. She said:

These are violently active chemicals and they have violent reactions on the organism ... What is the situation in which a woman would undergo that kind of assault?

One of the most spurious arguments being put forward in this debate goes to the advantages for rural women. To quote from RU486: misconceptions myths and morals:

There is much about RU 486/PG that is fraught with risk and problems. As we have queried, what is the meaning of a ‘private’ and ‘de-medicalized’ abortion that requires three or four doctor’s visits to a specialized centre, includes the taking of two and perhaps five hazardous drug combinations, is accompanied by vaginal ultrasound, and too often has complications ranging from moderate bleeding to severe pain and, for some women, blood transfusions? If this is a private and de-medicalized abortion experience, then the word ‘private’ has lost its definitional moorings.

I do not profess to be a medical expert, but I am prepared to listen to expert opinion provided in the various submissions. Another argument advanced is that this is a women’s only issue. I must say I am personally and deeply offended by those claims that this is solely a women’s issue and that men should butt out. The last time my wife and I had children, I seem to recollect that I, as a mere male, actually had something to do with it. Whilst I agree that it is the woman’s body that is carrying the baby, and I accept that the physical and mental aspect of unwanted pregnancy may be greater, speaking as a male I can assure you that men suffer the same mental anguish and torment in an unwanted pregnancy or abortion. Men should never be removed from the decision-making process, not legally nor morally, to end the life of a baby. I only need to remind members in this House of how we are inundated with correspondence in relation to fathers’ rights to have access to their children for them to know that that mental anguish would be no different from deliberating and grieving over an abortion.

On the issue of abortion itself, I have on previous occasions stated my personal Christian convictions not only in this parliament but also to the community that I represent. I am encouraged by the letters and phone calls of support on this issue. The number of contacts on each side of the argument from my electorate show clear support for the status quo. That being said, I do respect but do not agree with the views of many being put to me in this House to support this bill.

This week I received an email from a very well-respected doctor in my electorate, who wrote:

I am writing to you to encourage you to vote against the private members bill, giving the TGA the right and responsibility to license RU486.

As Tony Abbott says, this is not like other drugs, this is a drug that kills human life. Having practiced obstetrics for ten years in the bush, and having continued to care for women during pregnancy here, I have no doubt that an embryo is a human life, nor do the women who grieve for their miscarriages.

Even women and doctors who believe in abortion, do so with a sense of knowing it is fundamentally wrong. People are generally ashamed of terminations of pregnancy, and usually do so because it is presented to them as an option that “solves” their problem.

People who argue for women’s right to choose are arguing on behalf of many premises and rights that I also believe in, BUT when it comes to a decision as to whether an individuals right to do anything in society infringes on another human beings right to simply live, then the choice must go with an individuals right to live.

Recently I saw a young teenage girl who had travelled to Sydney with her mother, had an ultrasound that confirmed her pregnancy to be 19 + weeks (what does that mean was it 20 weeks? was it more?) The mother cried when she saw the baby on ultrasound, the girl would have felt that baby move inside her.

That baby would have had to be cut up, dismembered to be removed from her uterus by suction curette. This is apparently legal but obviously so wrong. The termination was performed in Macquarie St. This is where our society is going. Bob its time to make a stand.

If RU486 is licensed our society will continue to treat the value of human life with less and less regard.

Thanks for your time,

Dr. Mark Adamski

Is it about right to life? But whose life? The hypocrisy that has surrounded this debate is perhaps the easiest argument to reject. I cite the example of those who argue strongly for the preservation of life in the death sentences handed down to Bali nine drug convictees Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and the recently and sadly executed drug courier, Van Nguyen. These people go to great lengths to urge governments to do more for the unfortunate souls in Third World countries who die of starvation and disease every day, yet in the same breath advocate abortion, the wilful ending of an absolutely innocent life.

As a parent of twins who were born very prematurely and as one who sat by the humidicrib for weeks on end to pray and watch a child not much bigger than a barbie doll fight for life, I find it truly amazing that today a premature baby can survive at 21 weeks and incomprehensible that today a child can be aborted at the same age or older.

Why can’t those who advocate for the life of a convicted drug dealer advocate for the life of the unborn? When people argue about the morbidity and mortality of backyard abortions, they forget that the mortality of legal abortions is 100 per cent for the innocent baby. How bitterly ironic it is that people will defend abortion as somehow being a kinder alternative to the unborn child, often saying, ‘I couldn’t adopt the child. I couldn’t bring it into this world.’ What of the needs of the childless parents desperate to adopt a child?

Rejecting this bill will not, unfortunately, alter the status quo of the often quoted 100,000 abortions each year. Perhaps that is an argument that needs to explored in the state parliaments of Australia, which have the legislative responsibility for abortion. The decision that I have come to will allow my mind to rest easy. But I try to understand the anguish and torment of the parents that have made the decision to have an abortion and what they must go through. I am not without empathy for the difficult and sometimes awful situation pregnancy can represent. I will stand on my decision today, accountable to this parliament and to the people I represent, and that is something that I will never walk away from.