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Women and couples first

By Judith Troeth - posted Monday, 2 June 2008


Last week the Victorian Government finally tabled the Victorian Law Reform Committee’s Report (VLRC) on the decriminalisation of abortion. Many Victorian women have been waiting for this Report. Many are also hopeful that politicians can place this issue above politics and finally make a decision that puts women’s interests and considerations first in determining which model becomes law.

Victorian politicians need to be mindful of the mistakes made in other jurisdictions where in proposing to decriminalise the law the reforms have ended in mixed results and more bureaucracy.

It is time that women were recognised as beings capable of moral agency. Women and couples’ decisions about their fertility, and the number and spacing of their children must be their own decision; a moral decision based on conscience and faith. Governments should not be intervening in such personal decisions.

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While acknowledging that some people oppose abortion due to their religious beliefs, I believe that no single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion. I further believe that the choice to have an abortion is not made flippantly by women but is always a serious moral decision.

It is a decision that can uphold and protect the life, health, and future of the woman, her partner, and family. It is precisely because life, parenthood and family are so precious that no woman should be coerced to carry a pregnancy to term. Measures that restrict women’s access to abortion are punitive, do nothing to promote moral decision-making and, as has been shown overseas, do not reduce the rate of abortions.

After a six-month investigation, the VLRC has presented the Victorian Parliament with three models with which it can reform the law. While all models purport to reform the law not all models are equal in terms of respecting the moral decisions of women and couples.

Any model that codifies the Menhennitt ruling will not achieve either decriminalisation nor provide doctors, health professionals, or women and their partners with legal certainty. Repealing provisions from the Crimes Act and re-inserting them into the Health Act is also highly problematic as this simply lifts the law from one Act of Parliament and reinserts them as a crime into another Act of Parliament.

The VLRC has undertaken a thorough investigation. It has provided a forum for public debate receiving nearly 500 submissions as a response to its terms of reference. The time has come for the Victorian Government to make a decision. There is no time for procrastination and fear. Women have waited for over 40 years for reform in this area.

The Victorian Parliament must make a courageous decision, a decision that is not only a moral decision but one that recognises the moral agency of other adults to regulate their personal lives. Only by adopting Option C which removes all references to abortion and child destruction from the Crimes Act can the Parliament make such a decision. Abortion is a medical procedure with moral implications, those implications must be examined by the woman or couple concerned not the Parliament and the medical procedure should be regulated like other medical procedures rather than treated as a shameful or special area deserving of specific legislation.

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About the Author

Judith Troeth is a an active member of numerous Parliamentary Committees, most notably as the Chair of the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee. Before entering Parliament she lived near a small town in south-west Victoria.

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