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Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 1994

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - The Bill before the House has caused a great deal of concern throughout the community. I submit that the fundamental issue in this debate is whether an unborn child has a right to life. I contend that the unborn child has that right. Under the law at present the life of a mother is given preference over the life of an unborn child. The position in that respect is defined. Doctors may differ in degree in interpreting the law, but I submit that the rights of a mother are well protected. This protection would be all the more assured where a choice of medical opinion was available. While thelaw provides for protection of a mother's life, under these circumstances the rights of an unborn child normally would still remain. That an unborn child has rights is widely recognised despite comments that have been made in the debate. Even in the Bill the rights are preserved when pregnancy has reached a period of 23 weeks, in the second term. Some rights are given earlier than 23 weeks in the Bill, except where the life of a mother or serious permanent injury to her is threatened.

I repeat that the fundamental question before the House is whether the rights of an unborn child should be recognised during the whole or only part of a pregnancy. Surely there is logic in recognising that right during the whole of the pregnancy. It is true that an unborn child is at an advanced stage at the period suggested in the Bill as the time when the rights of the unborn child are acknowledged by the honourable members who are proposing the Bill. But obviously the life had begun at the beginning of pregnancy, and a decision to terminate that life in early pregnancy does not alter the fact that such action is the deliberate destruction of human life, and that surely cannot be tolerated simply to serve the convenience of another individual.

Despite what I have said, the problem of unwanted pregnancies must be faced and every moral action taken which will reduce the number of them and alleviate the difficulties associated with those that occur. For example, I believe that even the churches could give greater opportunity to young people to learn what is available and allowable within the teaching of the church to which individuals belong as far as family planning is concerned. It might well be that churches generally can review this matter within their teaching. J feel that that would be a desirable course. I freely acknowledge that efforts have been made in this direction, but 1 suggest they could and should be expanded by qualified personnel. Similar work could be done by State authorities, but a program for this work should be defined and this work, I repeat, should be done by qualified personnel and the program defined should be strictly adhered to. Among the advantages that I see from a program of this kind would be. that an unmarried pregnant woman would be advised as to what help was available to her. She may know at the present time, but this information needs to be much more widely disseminated.

A major factor in considering this Bill is to consider prevention rather than cure, and not enough has been said about that angle in this debate so far. I submit that the energy, the capacity and the (finance of this community should be marshalled and directed to that end. Even the proposers of the Bill, the 2 new Labor members of the House, have shown a good deal of incompetence because of the changing of the Bill and a good deal of impetuosity because they are new members. They have been the subject of a Press release which states:

By bringing this important issue before the public it was hoped by the proposers that the Commonwealth and the States would take action to see that unwanted conceptions were discouraged and single and married women were not forced by social and financial pressure to have abortions they do not desire.

That was stated in a Press release concerning the Bill that the 2 honourable members intended to bring forward. The Bill as designed and presented to this House is diametrically opposed to that objective, as it would offer a feeling of security, to young people particularly, that if a pregnancy occurred an abortion would be available and consequently encourage rather than discourage unwanted pregnancies. The fact that 2 new members are introducing this Bill makes one wonder why so soon after their election they should decide to take this action. It also poses the question: How did this matter arise? I think we can find a summing-up of the origins of this Bill in the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), the then Leader of the Opposition, when on 25th June 1971 at a Labor conference he said:

I believe in abortion on request, if you want a neat phrase. And on a sensitive issue like this, a free vote in Parliament is the way to get it.

He went on to say:

There would be no reform unless there was a free vote.

So today we are debating a Bill which would provide for abortion on request, and there is to be a free vote on it. Further evidence that neither this Bill nor the amendment is necessary for the Australian Capital Territory is provided by a comment from no less an authority than the Australian Medical Association. A publication by the Association states:

The Bill purports to 'clarify' the legal position of doctors, nurses and other persons. So far as doctors in the A.C.T. are concerned, they have not sought any clarification. The A.C.T. Medical Association considers that the legal position is clear-

So much for the medical clarification - and that arrangements presently available, within the law, care adequately for the interests of patients and the community as a whole.

I wanted to make one or 2 points in connection with a matter that was mentioned previously in the debate. I understood the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) to say that Cardinal Knox was in favour of a royal commission. In the 'Advocate' of 10th May, printed under the heading of 'Clarification', appears this statement:

In view of the misleading statement published in an evening paper I wish to state categorically that I have not given support to the idea of a royal commission on abortion.

I put that in as clarification of that particular claim. Another point that I wanted to make in connection with this debate and what has happened previously is that my Leader referred to a number of Country Party members who were on a list of members who wanted to speak. But in addition to those speakers there are a number of others who have since returned from interstate to keep faith with their constituents. I know that the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher), the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) and some other members have expressed their willingness or desire to speak in this debate since that list was drawn up.

Mr Hewson - And the honourable member for McMillan.

Mr CORBETT - And the honourable member for McMillan, and possibly there are others as well. I do not have the complete list. Let me get back to the position in regard to the Australian Capital Territory, and let us bear in mind that that is what this Bill refers to. It may be used elsewhere but in the main it refers to the Australian Capital Territory. Let me quote what the people in the Australian Capital Territory have to say about this Bill. The Australian Capital Territory Medical Association states:

The Association wishes the community of Canberra to know how abortion is dealt with in Canberra at this time. When a patient who wishes to have her pregnancy terminated consults her doctor, he will referher to a gynaecologist. If the gynaecologist thinks the termination is justified he will seek another opinion, often that of a psychiatrist. These opinions, applying medical, social and psychiatric criteria, are referred to a5-member committee of Canberra Hospital. The Committee comprises a general practitioner, a gynaecologist, a psychiatrist, a physician and a member of the medical administration. This Committee determines the case on the merit of the opinions.

The Association considers that this system adequately cares for the interests of members' patients and for the Canberra community as a whole. The system also provides adequate safeguards for the patient and the doctor under the present law.

So much for those people who claim that abortion is available only to those people who have the finance. It is available to others, and they can obtain it by the action that is recommended by the Australian Medical Association of the Australian Capital Territory. I understand that these views were the unanimous opinions of the 40 doctors present at a meeting to consider this matter. In fact, the degree or extent of a doctor's discretion in performing the legal abortion operation is illustrated in the judgment of His Honour Judge Gray in a Melbourne county court at the trial of Doctors T. C. Wall and Szwede on abortion charges in which he directed the jury to find the doctors not guilty of the abortion charges. Judge Gray in this judgment relied on the fact that the police surgeon when cross-examined admitted that it would be difficult not to justify a therapeutic abortion if a patient was in a state of depression, contemplating suicide and determined not to go through with the pregnancy.On this evidence the woman in question could have had a lawful abortion. I cite this as an example of the breadth of discretion that applies at the present time, and because it applies the Bill is not necessary and the amendment is not necessary.

Liberalisation of the abortion law does not solve the problem of deaths from abortion. The Royal College of Gynaecologists in London, in evidence submitted to the Lace Commission observed:

The number of deaths from abortion of all kinds in England and Wales is as high now as it was before the Act. Any decrease in the number of deaths from criminal abortion is matched by a rise in the number of deaths from induced abortion.

The College further stated:

So long as termination of pregnancy involves an operation it must mean a risk to life and health.

Finally it said:

It is as yet impossible to assess the long term physical ill effects, let alone the psychological sequelae of induced abortion.

To my knowledge there has been not one word about this sort of thing from either the supporters of the Bill or the honourable members pressing the amendment. The suggestion is that a woman can have an abortion and that is the end of it and no ill effects follow it. This is completely wrong. I oppose the amendment because I believe that the Australian people want to know and are entitled to know where the national Parliament stands on this issue, one of the most strongly debated issues that has ever been introduced into this Parliament. The issue is generally described as abortion on demand, or, in other words, where an abortion for any reason is made legal on request without any regard to the rights of the unborn child. Unless the amendment is defeated this issue will not be decided in the clear cut manner in which I believe the majority of Australians want it to be decided.

So far I have concentrated on showing that there is no need for this Bill or an amendment to it. No change in the law is necessary to enable a woman who has a justifiable case for abortion to have that abortion performed lawfully. But in this debate one cannot dodge the mora] issue involved. I would concede that the morals of the individual are a matter for the individual concerned, but the moral fibre of this nation is a matter which should seriously concern members of this national Parliament. Any person making a frank and honest assessment of the position must agree that there has been some drift, many would think a considerable drift, towards what is sometimes loosely called the permissive society. I submit that this drift has weakened and will continue to weaken the moral fibre of this nation. History consistently has shown that the downfall of countries has resulted from the lowering of the moral character of the community. We, in this Parliament today, have the opportunity to decide where we stand on national moral values and in protecting the unborn, helpless child.

Let us reject completely the device of abortion on demand to solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies and concentrate on an educational system which alone offers real hope to the community and would make a real contribution to the strengthening of the character of our great Australian nation. I should have liked to have said much more, but I will limit my remarks at this time to opposing the amendment and the Bill in order to give other honourable members an opportunity to express their views.

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