Tags: decriminalisation

9 Oct 2008, Comments Off on View from inside the House: Colleen Hartland’s decriminalisation bill diary

View from inside the House: Colleen Hartland’s decriminalisation bill diary

Author: Helen

A bit of background: Colleen Hartland is my local Greens member for the Legislative Council, Western Metropolitan region. I know her to say hello to. She’s an approachable person who likes to chat to people in the electorate about the things that bother them. I know her mostly from meetings about transport and crossing safety issues, but she’s active on the abortion decriminalisation front as well and featured in an AGE article about the abortion she herself had when she was young.

The abortion decriminalisation bill, having passed the lower house, is being debated in the Upper house (Legislative Council).

Wednesday 8 September: Colleen reports from da House!

The Abortion Law Reform Bill debate adjourned at 10pm last night, and started again this afternoon, after debate finished on a Liberal party motion on another topic.

We have now heard from 16 MPs, of which ten have indicated they will vote in favour of the Bill at “Second Reading” – that is, they support the Bill in principle, and will let it progress to the next debate stage, which is called the “committee” stage.

Today’s debate has been fascinating. I recommend anyone following the debate via Hansard to read the extraordinary speech by Shaun Leane (ALP) when it is published overnight. It joins speeches by Andrea Coote (Libs) and Jenny Mikakos (ALP) yesterday, which I thought were outstanding.

There are still about a dozen MPs on the speaking list tonight. Yesterday they spoke for an average 30 minutes each (I only spoke for about ten minutes), so don’t expect a result any time soon. As I write this, Bernie Finn (Libs) has been speaking for about an hour, and for the first time I have left the chamber.

I was surprised and delighted to receive brief messages from so many of you yesteday evening, including people who listened to my speech on the live broadcast , or read it on the website. My staff forwarded me some of the messages in Parliament, and they gave me a strong feeling of being part of a supportive, caring community during an exhausting sitting week.

These updates are going to about 500 people who asked me to vote for a woman’s right to choose. I was already pro-choice, but you have given me the courage to stand up and speak with your strength and support. This included my very difficult decision to go public about having had an abortion. I am sure that brief, warm supportive emails to other pro-choice MPs would also be appreciated.

You may have heard that pro-choice MPs are receiving abusive emails after speaking. I have been inundated with those emails, each one nastier than the last. If the anti-choice brigade ever needed to convince us that they are abusive, misogynist bullies who want to impose their choices on others, they have achieved that aim, with bells on! Mind you, yesterday one email spat “the BRAZEN nerve of you”, and I’m taking that as a compliment.

I expect we will sit later tonight than last night, because of the delay in starting the debate. I will send a message with the results of the “second reading” vote, if we get there.

Thursday 9 September:

Nineteen MPs have now spoken, of which eleven have indicated that they will vote for the Abortion Law Reform Bill at second reading.

When I sent my last email to this group*, at about 6.30pm yesterday, I said that Bernie Finn (Libs) had been speaking for over an hour. He kept speaking after the dinner break, and hadn’t finished at 10pm when the house adjourned. He started again this morning and kept talking, give or take lunch and question time, until 2.45pm this afternoon. I’m not entirely sure he stopped when we all went home overnight.

Mr Kavanaugh (DLP) is now speaking. So far it sounds like a repeat of Mr Finn’s arguments, but with a softer voice. He has anticipated that he will speak for some time.

It’s as though the anti-choice advocates have realised that they can’t win the argument on legal or moral grounds, and instead they’re trying to starve us out.

Mr Finn’s arguments, while lengthy, were not new to me, so his speech gave me over five hours to reflect and achieve perspective on the contributions so far.

One of the clearest truths, from all the speakers, including some of the anti choice speakers, is that this Bill won’t change the number of abortions carried out in Victoria. All it will do is improve safety for the women and the medical practitioners. Nothing else will change if it passes.

Women still wouldn’t make their decision in a vacuum. They still have to deal with society. I nearly cheered when Shaune Leane (ALP) suggested that the 2,000 people who have lobbied him against abortion, should instead send protest notes to their local media outlet when it vilifies single mothers in his extraordinary speech yesterday.

Jenny Mikakos (ALP) made an argument for practicing Christians such as herself, who would never choose abortion themselves, to nevertheless support the Bill in her speech on Tuesday. Jaala Pulford (ALP) said this afternoon that, worldwide, the abortion rate has no correlation to the legality of abortion, but instead to the place of women in society.

Ironically, some anti-choice advocates are frightened that this Bill will give too many rights to women, when it is an increase in women’s rights that will decrease the number of abortions.

Mr Theophanous (ALP) was the first speaker this afternoon to refer directly to proposed amendments, which he has circulated. The amendments relate to abortion after 24 weeks gestation. He argues that some of a woman’s reasons for abortion have more validity than others, and his proposed amendments reflect this view. My Greens colleagues and I will vote against them.

There will be up to 20 more speakers before we reach the first vote, which is the vote at the end of “second reading”. My best guess is that the vote will take place tomorrow morning, after which we will start debating proposed amendments.

Usually we don’t sit on Fridays. We’ve only done it once since I was elected. I think we should sit every day until the debate is concluded. I don’t think that delay tactics should be rewarded, when the result would be to leave the public hanging on a decision by 40 members of parliament. Particularly when I think the decision should belong to each individual woman.

If you want, you can send messages of support to colleenDOThartlandATparliamentDOTvicDOTcomDOTau.

8 Sep 2008, Comments Off on Decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria, continued

Decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria, continued

Author: Helen

<Image from http://www.now.org

Why has the “debate” on abortion decriminalisation in Victoria turned, again and again, to late-term abortion? Late term abortions are less than 1% of the total at present. So why is it that the coverage is all about abortion after twenty weeks? It crops up in just about every article on the Victorian Bill. I’ve been trying to avoid writing about it, because, well, then I’m just giving oxygen to the damn thing and becoming part of the problem. Like feeding the trolls. Late term abortion is really irrelevant to the discussion of the legislation, because the way it works will be virtually unchanged, and if we stop putting barriers in front of people who want an early abortion, it might even decline a bit. So why are the media and the anti-choice elements leaning on it so hard?

My initial guesses were, first, that late term abortion has a higher ick factor than early abortion, so that by focusing on gory pictures of foetuses and graphic descriptions of “partial birth” abortions (jargon imported, of course, from the US), the Tell the Truth crowd can play more effectively on emotion and uninformed reactions. Second, that by hammering the late-term abortion topic so relentlessly, they can make people assume wrongly that the proportion is higher than it really is.

Commenter Bingo Bango Boingo at LP offered a third possibility: that the battle for decriminalisation of abortion up to 24 weeks is pretty much lost now for the forced-birthers. Recognising that fact, they’re concentrating all their efforts on late-term abortion, as it is the part that will be more restricted under the proposed Bill and is therefore more susceptible to tightening amendments. (Anna Winter also remarked that those abortions, being so rare, are easier to make shit up about.)

I hope BBB’s right, as that is a relatively optimistic outlook. But still, the media obsession with late-term abortion prompts a few questions, for me. I think most rational people are aware that late-term abortions happen rarely in very tragic cases, mostly to do with foetuses which won’t be viable outside the womb, mothers whose lives are at risk, and very rarely for psychosocial cases which in themselves are very traumatic. But to read most newspaper accounts and comments from anti-choicers, you’d think that once abortion is removed from the criminal code, women will be thoughtlessly aborting for any trivial reason right up to the moment of birth. We’ll even be doing it just to get the baby bonus!

It’s such a jaundiced view of women. So many people seem to think that we’ll have abortions, even late term abortions, because we suddenly decide we want to fit into our Melbourne Cup frocks or some shit. OK, let me play their game for a minute or two. Let’s suppose that I’m a completely shallow party animal who just wants to look good, avoid personal issues and not lose my gym-toned sixpack or my partying lifestyle. Am I likely to have a late term abortion? Think about it.

Will I wait until I’ve got a grossly distended stomach (there goes the gym-toned sixpack, already) and have had to buy a second wardrobe of elastic-waisted garments; I’ve gone up two bra sizes; the people at work and at the club have all started asking interested questions; the family have all noticed; I’ve got puffy ankles and likely one or two other physical side-effects; I’ve kissed goodbye to my wine, cocktails and lots of my favourite foods; I haven’t had a proper sleep in weeks… Hmmm. Do you get my drift?

Media articles on decriminalisation are studded with words and phrases like “open slather“, “abortion on demand“– very popular this one, conjuring up images of women being all horrible and aggressive and demanding, and other loaded language all adding up to the impression that the decriminalisation of abortion will lead to non-stop abortion parties.

It’s based on exactly nothing, except for a deep cultural residue of contempt for women which the anti-choicers like Campbell may not even realise they carry. But it’s a cheap way to push people’s buttons. It’s a crock. And unfortunately, we appear to be stuck with it.

After sitting on the decriminalisation-of-abortion report for some months, the Victorian Parliament has reported that it’s set to vote sometime soon on decriminalisation.

There are three options. The AGE report on Friday, annoyingly, didn’t put the details on the web, just the news report, so I’ll transcribe them here:

Option A: A doctor would have to assess whether continuation of the pregnancy posed a risk of harm to the woman. A doctor who performed an abortion when not satisfied of risk of harm would be guilty of professional misconduct.

Option B: A woman’s consent provides lawful authority for an abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation. After that point, an abortion would only be lawful when either one or two doctors deemed continuing the pregnancy would pose a risk of harm to the woman. Doctors who performed an abortion unlawfully would be guilty of professional misconduct.

Option C (Based on the model used in the ACT and Canada): A woman is the final decision-maker throughout her pregnancy. No abortion “on demand” as a doctor must still agree that an abortion is ethically and clinically appropriate. Unlawful abortions include those conducted without the woman’s consent and performed by unqualified people.

Like Leslie Cannold at ProChoice Victoria, it’s my opinion that only option C is the one that trusts women to make the right decision for their bodies, themselves and their families. Option A is similar to the existing Menhennit Ruling coded into law, and would possibly make things worse. Option B is slightly better, but still operates on the principle that if we don’t forcibly prevent women from having abortions after 24 weeks, they’ll all be doing it. (And do you notice they find it necessary to write “still no abortion on demand! “Because we enjoy it so much, we’ll be rocking up and demanding them for no reason. It’s a myth that just never dies.)

It’s important that we all write to our local MP and/or the ministers for Health and Womens’ affairs, because the “pro-life” lobby is always many times more vocal and organised than most of us. The commission reported that roughly 90% of the community is pro-choice, while about 80% of the submissions they received were from the forced-birthers.

Elsewhere, they’re trying to wind back the gains women have made in the last thirty years. The push for an abortion ban is on again in South Dakota. In Britain, the conservative MP Nadine Dorries recently caused the parliament vote on reducing the abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks (the “20 reasons for 20 weeks” campaign.) That was defeated last week, 393 to 71. And crowds of assorted loonies still turn up to make life hard (and dangerous) at fertility clinics – Hey, props to you, Anonymous Lefty.

Click here to send an email to all Victorian MPs to support option C.