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Thursday, 13 September 1973
Page: 959

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Smith - Postmaster-General) - I do not want to take a great deal of time because I know that the order of speakers has been arranged. This is one of the difficulties which this House faces. I was a jumper, as one might term it, who was anxious to talk in the last debate on this matter but I never got the call. I am happy to have the call now but I will take only 5 minutes. In the previous debate a lot of emphasis was given to the fact that the law was inadequate as it applies in the Territories. That basically is what that debate was about. But looking at this in a wider spectrum, in my submission the law has always been adequate. If honourable members look at the Bourne case which was dealt with in 1938 they will see that it clearly shows that it was 35 years ahead of this Parliament because for the first time in regard to what was deemed to be lawful or unlawful it was found that it was not unlawful to terminate a pregnancy where a medical practitioner performed it and it was in the interests of the mother's health.

There has been much discussion on words and on what we are really aiming at in this day and age. What is it that we are so anxious to find out? Of course abortions are performed, but should they be? In certain circumstances they have to be from the medical point of view. In other circumstances they are probably caused by the third party who is never put in the dock - the fellow who aids and abets. The accessory before the fact is never charged. That could have been an argument put on the basis of a weakness in the law but it has never been put yet. If honourable members look at the statistics on how many charges are laid and convictions obtained they will see that there has been none in the last 12 months in New South Wales because there is a complete let-out - and it is a valid one - if the person performing the abortion is a medical practitioner and the abortion is done in the interests of the woman's health. In that case there is no indictment. But of course society says that we must prevent the backyard abortionist, the unqualified person - and I will agree with that.

I will conclude by saying that I would rather see an amendment in different terms. By all means have an inquiry. Have it on the basis of a royal commission. But what about putting a mother on the commission from the point of view of the problem that we are trying to grapple with, the dignity of the women.

Mr Malcolm' Fraser - The amendment does not prevent that.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It does not suggest it, though, and in my view it ought to suggest it. It should not be a judicial commission. The membership should consist of three - a mother experienced in social welfare, a medical practitioner and a criminologist. As the honourable member for Hunter (Mr Jones) has said, what a joke it is in our society when we can look at the statistics of the Commissioner of Taxation and see the undisclosed income of medical practitioners who are getting away with these offences. Does it not make a laughing stock of our law? In fairness to Bourne, he was a qualified medical surgeon who did not charge a fee - an honour to his profession. He was not like these other sleazy individuals who want to exploit the grief and misery of an unmarried mother. What we should be looking at here are the terms of reference. The commission of inquiry should have access to all income records to find out what has gone wrong. We should be able to give supporting services to unmarried mothers. We should guarantee in all circumstances an opportunity for the preservation of the rights of the unborn because the law recognises the rights of the unborn.

The greatest tragedy in all these debates is that we do not give enough dignity to women. We do not give them a chance to solve their own problems and we do not give any support to them. I would like to see an amendment that guaranteed action would be taken to deter persons including the male parent from aiding and abetting illegal abortion. There certainly should be, as the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) said, more informative family planning techniques. But let us have a look at the circumstances. Let us have a look at the results. Let us have a look at the problems in matrimonial causes. Let us accept this basic principle - we want to preserve the family unit. We cannot preserve it by destroying the dignity of women. There are many people responsible for abortions who are never charged because of the legal position. What I would like to see is an inquiry into the circumstances which cause an abortion; the consequences of it; the action required to assist women in avoiding it; the action required to deter people from aiding and abetting it; the adequacy and effectiveness of family planning techniques; the action required to ensure that medical practitioners always act in the interests of the woman's health; the action required to ensure that all services are available free of cost; the action required to establish the necessary supportive services; and, generally, the action required to ensure the preservation of the lives of the mother and her unborn child. The commissioners should have access to the records of all Federal authorities, including health, social security, matrimonial causes and income tax authorities, and should have power to seek the cooperation of the respective State authorities in these jurisdictions, including the State law enforcement and child welfare agencies; as far as practicable, the commissioners should comprise a mother who is experienced in social welfare work, a medical practitioner and a criminologist; and the commissioners should be assisted by senior counsel and have power to sit in camera.

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