Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 September 1973
Page: 954

Mr STEWART (Lang) (Minister for Tourism and Recreation) - I am appalled, as I was a few months ago, that we can alford the luxury of using so much time and expending so much emotion on this issue when other urgent topics are pigeonholed or summarily dismissed. But if we must again delve into this highly complex moral issue, I feel we ought to do it properly and honestly. And that is the reason I second the amendment to the motion.

The honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews), supported by the honourable mem ber for Hotham (Mr Chipp) has seen fit to shape and fashion their motion 4 times, the last literally in the eleventh hour, using various kinds of plastic surgery in the process, desperately trying to camouflage the original and basic concern - that of the right or otherwise of women to have legalised abortion. I admit that the fourth version of their labours, the one which actually constitutes the motion before the House, is a much more sophisticated recommendation than either the first or second rather crude attempts. But the fact remains that the honourable members still seem to reduce the problem to a mere abortion issue. They are hiding a small but vital nucleus in an enormous balloon decorated with all kinds of distracting sops.

The amendment of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is principally different. This also recommends an inquiry into various problems concerning abortion and sexuality, but there the similarity ends. It is this dissimilarity that prompts me to support the amendment. Essentially the amendment recommends that we examine the role of women in our society and I say it is high time that this was done, but not just in the narrow confines of an inquiry that would reduce women to mere curio objects. I do not claim that sex, pregnancy and abortion are not important to women or, for that matter, to men. But I do argue that there is much more to this problem than merely determining whether or not women should have the sole prerogative of deciding to terminate a pregnancy.

The amendment takes the entire spectrum into account; it argues that abortion does not end on the operating table or in a nursing home but has far reaching social, economic and moral implications. It recommends that all circumstances be examined which may lead to abortion; that all possible consequences which may follow be considered. The narrowness of the motion conceals many dangers. It fails to examine the much wider implications involved that cause women not to want babies after they have already conceived. I do not suspect ulterior motives behind the narrow limitations of the motion, but I am not prepared to accept it either.

No matter how we beat around the bush, the central theme of the motion remains abortion and sexuality, plain and simple. So let us have another look at that issue. It would take more gullibility than can possibly be attributed to any male to pretend that there is such a thing as a clean, simple, totally safe abortion. There is clear medical evidence that where legalised abortion has been allowed for many years, serious consequences such as sterility, excessive menstrual flow, cervical incompetence and premature labour are not uncommon. As a result, several countries which had introduced liberalised abortion laws in the 1950s reversed them in the 1960s. We have a chance to learn from their mistakes.

Let us look at the effect legalisation has on the numbers of abortions that follow. Whether it is in Britain, Japan or the countries of eastern Europe, the record shows a large leap in abortions when the law is changed to allow an easier abortion scheme. The working party of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists notes in its report 'Unplanned Pregnancy', published in 1972, that in 1967 - the year before the Abortion Act - there were 6,000 abortions but since the Act the number has risen to 126,774 in 1971 and more than 150,000 last year. I will not quote all the figures for the east European countries studied by Dr Mehlan in his book 'Abortion in Eastern Europe'. But in each of those countries there have been huge rises. For example, in Hungary the number of abortions rose from 123,000 in 1957 to 186,000 in 1966, in Poland in the same period the number rose from 36,000 to 156,000 and in Czechoslovakia it rose from 7,000 to 90,000. It is not enough to say that these rises in the number of legal abortions are just making legal, after a change in the law, what would otherwise have been illegal operations. The evidence shows that making abortion legal does not result in any marked drop in the number of illegal abortions.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists report to the Lane Committee states that the Abortion Act 'has not so far materially reduced' the incidence of illegal abortion. The same result is found in Dr Tietze's report on the Scandinavian countries and in the 18 years' experience of Japan's legal abortion scheme. Dr Hilgers and Dr Shearin, of America's Mayo Clinic, in their evidence to the Minnesota State Legislature, demonstrated that legalising abortion had no effect on the illegal abortion rate in Hungary, Czechoslavakia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Poland, Britain, Japan, the Union of Soviet Socialist Rebublics and the American State of Colorado, while in Yugoslavia and East Germany there was an actual increase in illegal abortions despite legalisation. In fact, when East Germany tightened up its abortion laws, the number of illegal abortions dropped. Nor does the rise in legal abortion mean that there is any drop in the number of illegitimate children born. In England and Wales in 1966 the number of illegitimate children for every 1,000 live births was 79. It rose to 84 in 1967 and to 85 in 1968, and in 1970 it was 82.

What the libertine proponents of abortion on demand may refuse to regard as an important side issue is: how far should abortion be a matter of serious concern to people other than the woman herself, and how are the lives of her parents, husband or future husband and past or future children affected? Abortion is not just an unrelated operative event that vanishes without a trace once the wound is healed; it has an untold number of moral tentacles cutting into many lives. Firm evidence can be produced that abortion frequently reduces a woman's future reproductive capability and subsequent children come at a. higher risk. It can also be shown that a man is more likely to have a sterile wife or a stillborn, premature or defective child if he marries a girl who has had an induced abortion. It is these consequences and the rights and lives of these innocent bystanders that we must also safeguard.

The argument about the morality of abortion is not new but I will sum it up again. Whether some conceited males in our midst are flattered or not by the comparison, a baby 8 or 9 weeks after conception is their very alter ego in all essential details. Since the 25th day, its heart has been pumping blood of the baby's own blood group. Abortion at this stage with a curette involves the cutting up of the foetus in order to get the pieces through the narrow neck of the mother's womb. It is not a pleasant image, but I want people to bear this in mind when they casually refer to the foetus as though it were some abstract lump of jelly.

I deviated into technical and medical fields from what, to me, is an essentially moral or even social issue. The amendment specifies the numerous related areas that should be examined in connection with abortion. It shows compassion, honesty and, above all, common sense when it refuses to accept abortion as an isolated phenomenon, almost as though it was the result of an unfortunate oversight by women, something we men must nobly allow them to have - a sort of social pardon. It is a social issue and even an economic one yet these aspects are usually glossed over. The undue importance attached to abortion itself has always puzzled me.

In our rich and lucky country, the number of women who have had children but are experiencing economic problems is far greater than the number of abortions in any one year. Yet, we do not hear great rhetoric about these hapless mothers. Their plight does not reach even the front steps of this House or the front pages of our newspapers. Are we to worry only about those who, for one reason or another, want to terminate their pregnancy; or are we prepared to examine the implications of their decisions and their circumstances, and to help all women, pregnant or not, married or not, aborting or not, as befits my and my Party's socialist principles and beliefs?

There is a further moral issue to all this. When we investigate, in accordance with the amendment, all circumstances relating to abortion and children and families, I hope we will also find time to spare a thought for those women who prefer to have their unplanned, possibly illegitimate babies rather than face an abortion. If these women need help, we should give it to them; if the babies require medical, social or welfare assistance, they are entitled to it. The Government must accept its share of the responsibility for these people, instead of ignoring them. Maybe this is not such a spectacular or dramatic issue as a schoolgirl's abortion problem, but it is just as real and just as penetrating a human involvement.

There is one more topic I must touch on. The motion suggests the appointment of a judge to conduct an inquiry as sole commissioner. I am much more in favour of several commissioners being in charge. The inherent dangers are obvious when there is one judge. We all have been around long enough to realise that it is possible to select your man or woman according to the end result you want to achieve. It can also be achieved when there is more than one commissioner. Only keep in mind what happened to the gerrymandered Queensland, Victorian and New South Wales electoral boundaries. But it is not fair to leave such enormous responsibility to only one man or woman whose personal bias, one way or another, may influence his or her decisions. Having several commissioners reduces the possibility of such errors in a direct reverse ratio and ensures that the inquiry will be scrupulously fair to all parties concerned.

Mr Speaker,permit me to repeat my strong support for the amendment before the House. I accept the argument that an inquiry into these vital issues must be made; I am not opposed to an honest examination of abortion problems. But I want to have it done thoroughly, by looking at the whole spectrum, not merely at the medical aspects of it. The role of women in society, their status in the world and their economic equality are at stake - not merely their reproductive problems. The amendment, in my view, ensures that any inquiry ordered by the House would benefit greatly all women in this country, not just the minority who may seek abortion. It could produce remarkable results for children and, certainly, for our families. If we can make the lot of women, children and families any easier and their lives any happier, surely even the most shortsighted and cynical male will be lucky enough to derive residual benefits from such a changed world.

Suggest corrections