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Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 1986

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - Yes. I am very glad indeed to have the privilege of seconding the amendment moved by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews). I want to pay my tribute at the outset to my friend and colleague the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). He was equally ready and indeed anxious to second the motion and I am indebted to his generosity of spirit that the privilege has fallen to me. I should also like to pay a tribute to those who have produced this Bill in the House, because they have faced a real issue that exists and will continue to exist no matter how this House votes and because they have obviously put so much effort and research into their contributions. The House is indebted to them for this.

One does not make up one's mind on an issue of this kind without very deep and anxious thought. Indeed, I have not had occasion for a very long time to give my mind so unremittingly to a problem as I have to this one, and at last I have come to a conclusion. Should one put one's own views as an individual or should one defer to those whom one represents? We have all had literally hundreds of letters, mostly on one side. Are we to assume from this that these are the views of our constituents and have we any right to fly in the face of the views so expressed?

T believe that it is the responsibility of a member to make up his own mind, but not to ignore c- ompletely the wishes of the community. I have not tried to ascertain these by counting letters. I have in my hand the result of a gallup poll published in the 'Adelaide Advertiser' on 8th May 1973 - 3 days ago. From this poll it appears that 23 per cent of the people polled believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, that is, abortion on request. Twenty per cent believe that abortion should be legal in cases of exceptional hardship, either physical, mental or social. Twenty-one per cent believe that abortion should be legal if the mother's health, either physical or mental, is in danger. Nineteen per cent believe that abortion should be legal only if the mother's life is in serious danger, and 13 per cent believe that abortion should not be legal in any circumstances.

It is quite clear from this that with various gradations an overwhelming majority of people believe that there should be some provision for abortion, running at one end of the scale from the mere wish or the request under any circumstances to a much more restrictive point of view. I merely mention this from the point of view of my own conscience as to whether I should fly in the face of my constituents' views. I, myself, have no doubt at all that there should be provision for abortion under proper circumstances. But I am glad that I do not have to fly in the face of my constituents and this community as a whole. I mention it for that purpose only - not that it determines my vote but it leaves me free to exercise my own judgment.

What are the courses open to all honourable members in this House? Firstly, we can vote for the Bill. Secondly, we can vote against the Bill. Thirdly, we can vote for an amendment. Indeed, in the time available to us probably there is only one choice as regards amendments, namely, to vote for that moved by the honourable member for Casey. I cannot vote for the Bill, basically for 2 reasons. First of all, I cannot accept abortion on request, which is provided for in the first part of the Bill. It may be that a time will come when the mores of the community are such that it would be regarded as an antisocial act for a woman to seek an abortion unless for due and proper reason. For example, a thoroughly healthy woman with a small family and more or less unlimited financial resources would not dream of seeking an abortion simply because she would prefer to have, say, a Mercedes car.

But for the time t=ing it may well be that there should be some brake upon abortion on request. In another generation this may be unnecessary; at present it may be essential. The second reason why I cannot accept or vote for the Bill is because it deals with only one aspect of the problem; that is, abortion, which I regard as a failure of contraception.

The former English Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, was in Australia a short time ago.

He said that while he had supported a similar Bill in the House of Commons he felt that every case of abortion amounted really to a failure to use contraceptive measures. I take the view that the Bill does not deal really seriously with this matter at all. I know there are one or two clauses which deal with this aspect but the provision is not enough. However, the amendment moved by the honourable member for Casey covers all the associated problems that are the very essence of the whole problem. What these are I shall come to shortly.

I come to the second choice. I would prefer not to have to vote against the Bill because if the Bill is defeated it could well mean the sweeping of this problem under the carpet for a long time to come. This was my first belief, that it would do so. But my second thoughts on the matter suggest that the question will not indeed be swept under the carpet. Those who think that they can remove the matter from the business paper today, I think, will find that it persists and haunts them in the end. It cannot be avoided. The problem is there and it will remain. It cannot, by a clever vote, simply be swept under the carpet in the House or in the community. But I would rather not vote against the Bill because it would indicate that I had no thoughts about doing something in regard to this problem, and I do wish something done about the problem.

Unfortunately, if the amendment is defeated then I am confronted with voting for or against the Bill, which is a false antithesis for me. I shall now try to explain the amendment so that honourable members may understand it. It provides for a royal commission. A royal commission has power to summon witnesses and call for papers. It can obtain all the evidence it requires. The chairman is to be a Supreme Court justice. First - I think the honourable member for Casey does not mind my saying so - he was considering a royal commission that would not include a judge. I felt that a judge was essential because we are concerned with ascertaining facts. I will come to this point in a moment. The royal commission is to have a majority of women members. After all, this matter affects women.

Here we are, a Parliament of all men; there is not a single woman in this chamber. Yet women are obviously intimately concerned with this matter. So the amendment provides for the royal commission to have a majority of women members. For those who say that this amendment is a cunning device to sidetrack the matter, I point out that the proposed royal commission is to report within 12 months. So those honourable members who say that this proposal is just a trick so that the matter is disposed of should remember that the matter will come back before the Parliament. In the end a report has to be presented and again they will have to face the issue, not in ignorance but with knowledge. I hope that no members of this House will take the view that they ought not to be confused with facts. Let us look at the details of the amendment proposed. Firstly how many abortions are performed each year in Australia and what are the characteristics of the women who are aborted and the circumstances in which abortions occur? We have no knowledge of these things. Why are they aborted? Is it because of poverty, because they are not married and a child would cause them embarrassments or because they are married and have too many children? What are the reasons? We do not know and we do not know how many abortions take place, either. Surely it would not confuse us very much to know the facts, for a start. What are the dimensions and the characteristics of the problem?

Secondly, what are the consequences of abortion for women who are aborted? Do they become, as some have suggested, neurotic people because they have been aborted? As a matter of fact, most of the evidence is the other way. What is the effect on medical practitioners performing abortion procedures? Gynaecologists do not like abortions, of course. What is the effect upon the police of inquiring into alleged abortions? Does it corrupt them in enforcing the law? What is its effect upon the community as a whole? Does it mean, as the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley ) has suggested that the community becomes so callous that it becomes like the German doctors who operated upon living adult people? I do not believe that it does, but we should look at the consequences of abortion. Is it going to make the entire community callous? Personally, I do not believe it will, but let us find out what has happened in countries where such things have happened.

Thirdly, what are the courses open to women who carry through unwanted pregnancies and what are the consequences of each course for the mother and for the child? The woman may be married or unmarried, but she keeps the child. What happens then? Does she find the struggle for existence such as to be almost intolerable? She could have the child adopted. How does she feel about that? Does she forever afterwards feel a sense of guilt that she has not kept the child or is she quite happy about it. Supposing the child happens to be a child of mixed race and nobody wants to adopt it and it goes into an institution and the mother has to think of what happens to an unloved child in an institution. These are factual matters. Fourthly, how effective are the laws on abortion in the Australian Capital Territory, in the States and in countries comparable with Australia? What alternatives to the law of the Australian Capital Territory are offered by laws in other places and what are the likely medical, social and economic effects associated with each alternative?

I have in my hand a book by a psychiatrist, Anthony Horden, entitled 'Legal Abortion: The English Experience'. It is the most objective and informative book on any subject that 1 have found for a very long time. Now there is to be a report by a Mrs Justice Lane of the English High Court - from the old probate, divorce and admiralty division of the High Court. 1 have not had time to read her qualifications here, but her report will be issued within the next 2 months. Are we going to legislate without paying regard to the experience that the British people have had over four or five years and to the review by a woman of that kind regarding the operations of that Act? I hope not. "Fifthly, in what ways can the incidence of abortion be reduced by improving services and facilities, such as sex education in schools, family planning clinics, supply of contraceptives, pregnancy support agencies, adoption agencies and social security payments? Most of these were mentioned by the Minister for Education and have been mentioned by other members in the House. They go to the very heart of the matter. Are we going to pass a Bill dealing purely with abortion and not consider all these related subjects which might induce a girl to keep or not to keep her child? I would hope not. I would hope that this House would not be so irresponsible. I could refer to other matters that may be thought to be relevant.

I want to make this perfectly clear: Of course there are some things that a royal com mission can do and some that it cannot do. I have spoken about the things that it can do. These are factual matters and deeply relevant to the question in hand without which, 11 suggest, nobody can reach a proper conclusion based on realities and on facts. But I acknowledge that there are other things that a royal commission cannot do. There are 2 extreme views on this issue. One is that the foetus is a human being from the moment of conception. I do not know when an acorn becomes an oak and I am not going to enter into debate on that kind of issue. No royal commission can call evidence or reach conclusions on a matter of that kind.

On the other extreme there are the people who say that a woman has an absolute right to have pregnancy terminated, even for the most transitory reason of selfish personal convenience. I do not think any of us are permitted to do that kind of thing. I do not think even men are permitted to do whatever they like without proper reasons if their actions affect other people. There are some things a royal commission can do and some that it cannot do. I acknowledge the things it cannot do. These will be matters of belief or conviction on different sides. But is this any reason why nothing should be done at all that can be done? Is it any reason why those things that can be ascertained should not be ascertained and why members should not be able to come to a conclusion on the basis of such relevant facts as can be ascertained? As the honourable member for Casey said very rightly, a royal commission of this kind can educate those who have open minds on this matter - that is, those who do not start with some a priori conviction, but who still have open minds as to how and to what extent the popular will can be carried into effect in this matter - the guidelines that should be laid down and the ancillary provisions about which I have spoken. Such a royal commission can inform the public.

In England the Bill was introduced at a certain time and it did not become law until, I think, 15 months afterwards. In the Committee stage alone - I hope that the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) is listening to this; I do not know where he is - they had 15 meetings twice weekly and they finished with a 27 hours continuous session, the longest for 30 years in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, during that 15 months from the time the Bill was introduced until it received the royal assent, there was public debate. The medical people, the social workers and everybody with special knowledge or interest was able to discuss these matters in the Press and the learned journals. Here we are reaching a decision in 3i hours. There is only one way in which there can be proper public education so that everybody, including members of this Parliament, knows what the Bill is all about, apart from those matters of fundamental belief which no royal commission or anybody else can influence. This is the only way in which that process of education can be carried out in this country, as it was done in England by another means.

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