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Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 1990

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - I hope to confine my statement to a brief compass. I oppose the Bill. Because I oppose the Bill no inference should be drawn that there is in any way a an attitude within my Party. My Party has decided, consistent with our attitudes, that every member of it should vote on this issue according to the way he feels morally bound to vote. I oppose both the amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time and the amendment which may be moved later. One amendment has already been moved and it had as its purpose the establishment of a royal commission. The other amendment, which may not be able to be moved, would seek a referendum in the Australian Capital Territory. I will vote to defeat both amendments. One amendment having been moved, the question which I understand you will be putting to the House, Mr Speaker, is: That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question'. To defeat that amendment I will vote yes as it is necessary to do in order to defeat it. If the majority of honourable members votes in the same way as I do, the further amendment which has been circulated in the name of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) will not be able to be moved. The question which will then be put to the House, if I understand it correctly, is: That this Bill be now read a second time', and on that question I will vote no. It needs to be understood that I will firstly vote yes, and secondly vote no. That is necessary because of the procedures of the House. It needs to be understood that that is the way in which the defeat of the Bill will be effected.


Mr SNEDDEN - It is not necessary to write it out. There may be some people in the House who would like to put forward the proposition that it can be done another way. If they put that proposal forward they are attempting to mislead and I think it is most important-

Mr McMahon - Or ignorant.

Mr SNEDDEN - Or ignorant, yes. This needs to be made clear to honourable members and it needs to be made clear to the listening public. In as short a time as possible I shall state my reasons for opposing the Bill. But first let me say that I have received many thousands of letters in opposition to the Bill and I have received many hundreds in favour of the Bill. I have read most of the letters or, at any event, a very great number of them. I have read a great selection of material - of which there is a very great amount - which argues the case for or against abortion. But the attitude I hold today is not different from that which I have held for a long time.

We all know that it is a complex society in which we live today. We know that there are ever-changing social attitudes - social values even - questioning constantly in our community such issues as, for example, the age of majority, equality of opportunity - which is an extension of the already achieved right of equality of rights - and freedom of individual expression. There is questioning about divorce and about homosexuality, and even questioning about marriage as a social institution in our community. One area of ferment is the role of women in our community and, of course, when considering the role of women in our community the question of sexual relations comes up. As soon as that question is discussed it is necessary to consider contraception. I do not believe that abortion can be seen as an extension of a contraceptive device. It cannot be seen as a fail-safe contraceptive. It must be seen in a quite different light for contraception is very much a part of our lives. It is, always has been and will be in the future. We should not be afraid about contraception or about speaking of it. Different people will have different views about contraception and they will have different preferences for the methods. But quite clearly the oral contraceptive taken by women is the most common form of contraception and there should be no social stigma about its use.

The right to prevent conception is the right of men and women in our community and cannot be changed by edict. But what we are dealing with in this debate is the postcontraception situation, that is, of conception. It is my belief that after conception a life commences. Pregnancy is an imperative situation. We have all heard that old joke about pregnancy, that you cannot be a little bit pregnant. That is because of our belief, our understanding and the reality that after conception a life commences. So the issue before us in this Bill can simply be stated in this form: Is it acceptable in our society, with our moral and ethical values, to end that life in the way contemplated by the Bill? My answer to that question is no. Essentially the reason for my answering no is that I have a revulsion to the taking of human life. My revulsion can be overcome in some limited circumstances. The mother can find her life threatened or her health very seriously threatened by a number of medical causes, the 2 obvious ones being cardiac or renal disease, of her life can be threatened by her own hand in some circumstances. Essentially that amounts to balancing the health or life of the mother against that of the unborn child. It is a difficult decision, but difficult as the decision is it is not adequately answered by what may be described as abortion on demand or on request - I do not see any difference between the words; it is an element contained in this Bill before the House - at earlier stages of pregnancy, or by the provision relating to the later stages which, while containing conditions, are to my mind quite unacceptable.

An additional reason why I would not want by my vote to pass this Bill is that I would not want to contribute to a situation in which young men and women may take a decision which could haunt them with guilt for the rest of their lives when a chance event brought back to their recollection the decision which they took many years ago and which deprived them of the opportunity of a child - stifled a life at a time when there were on them great pressures which they could not withstand at the time. The pressures could be economic, social and so on. It can be a cruel and uncompromising world in which young people live and we need to be more compassionate and understanding as a community, but this Bill does not contribute to that compassion or to that understanding. It obliterates the fact and pretends that it does not exist.

Most abortions take place between 6 to 8 weeks when the mother realises her pregnancy and seeks medical or other intervention. The intervention of a doctor in sterile surroundings or the unqualified practitioner in the squalid surroundings are both unacceptable in my argument which is based on the preservation of human life. The first type of intervention is the social apologia for the second. I feel deeply for women who undergo abortions. I feel angry about crude abortions for profit. My attitude is consistent when carried through to capital punishment, sex education, access to professional social welfare workers, child care centres, community assistance programs and so on. This is not the time to debate those matters, but we must in the future tackle those problems and debate them. This is a time for a solemn appraisal of our responsibility as elected members of the people. My view does not arise from any adherence to an unbinding moral philosophy.

My view has arisen because I have thought hard and long. Others have thought equally seriously and reached a different decision. But. I am morally committed to vote against this Bill and the amendments.

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