Victoria, Australia Set to Drop Abortion from Crimes Act

Mon Sep 8, 2008 - 2:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

MELBOURNE, Australia, September 8, 2008 ( - The parliament of Victoria is set to debate tomorrow on a bill that proposes to legalise abortion in the Australian state. The bill would make abortion legal for any reason up to 24 weeks pregnancy. The Victorian Abortion Reform Bill, which would remove abortion from the Crimes Act, has the support of Premier John Brumby of the Australian Labor Party.

Brumby has not said whether he will support an amendment to lower the gestational age limit to 20 weeks, saying only that the bill as it is now reflects the "current practice" in Victoria. "We’ll see what the debate brings and what the amendments bring. There will be amendments in the house and they’ll be considered on a case by case basis."

The bill also contains a provision in which a woman could abort her child after 24 weeks if she obtains the approval of two physicians who support the abortion for "medical grounds." The government has agreed to allow MPs a conscience vote.

Under a 1969 Supreme Court ruling, about 20,000 legal abortions are already committed in Victoria each year. Removal of abortion from the Crimes Act, Brumby claimed, would not result in more abortions.

Brumby’s claim is similar to that made by Canadian Liberal MP, later Prime Minister, John Turner who helped to abolish Canada’s abortion laws and also insisted that no change would be seen in abortion rates. When Canada began changing its laws in 1969, there were 542 abortions in hospitals. After the passing of the Omnibus Bill making the practice legal, the number of abortions skyrocketed to 11,152 in 1970; 30,923 in 1971 and rose steadily thereafter to more than 100,000 abortions annually by in the 1990s.

Professor Graeme Clark, a renowned Australian physician and scientist, told the Ad Hoc Interfaith Committee today, "Twenty-four weeks is too late. Internationally, it’s 20 weeks." The Interfaith Committee included members of the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Anglican, United Church, Jewish and Muslim communities.

At 20 weeks, the heartbeat of a child in the womb, which started at three weeks, can be heard through a doctor’s stethoscope. All the baby’s organs and limbs, fingers and toes are developed. The baby sleeps, wakes and moves or "swims" in the womb, and can be woken by loud noises or movement.

Another proposed amendment, as reported by The Age newspaper, would require doctors to tell women seeking an abortion "the nature of the abortion and the risks and possible effects of the abortion on the woman and the foetus."

Clark, who is a Companion of the Order of Australia and a Fellow of the Royal Society, also identified problems for mothers related to abortion. He spoke of psychological problems as the main health risks for women aborting after 20 weeks.

Clark said, "The hormones that are occurring in a young woman are going to lead to post-natal depression even though she’s had an abortion. It should be mandatory that every person over 20 weeks should have the opportunity for counselling because it’s a matter of hormones and it’s very hard for women to cope."

Gianna Jessen, a woman from Nashville, Tennessee,  who is a survivor of a late term abortion, also spoke at the rally saying she wanted to "infuse some humanity" into the debate.

"It’s absolutely miraculous that I’m even standing here," she said. "If abortion is merely about women’s rights then what were mine? Every day I bear the mark of someone else’s decision."

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