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The case for decriminalising abortion is not so simple

By David Palmer - posted Friday, 4 July 2008

As noted in Ms Anne O’Rourke’s recent On Line Opinion article “Abortion: the silent majority”, the Victorian Law Reform Commission has recently produced a report for the state government on options for decriminalisation of abortion.

Ms O’Rourke says three cheers for the Law Reform Commission - they got it right. “The religious right” don’t represent “the silent majority” and therefore have no reason to complain when their submissions got scrapped by the commission.

But, it is not as simple as that.


Writing for what Ms O’Rourke labels as “the religious right” but in truth, the great bulk of the church, whether catholic, orthodox or evangelical, we do have grounds for complaint about the commission’s report, though it must be said the commission has mostly, though not entirely, kept to the Victorian Attorney-General’s terms of reference.

It should cause no surprise to anyone, including Ms O’Rourke, given the churches’ principled opposition to the decriminalisation of abortion and deep distress to know that there is one abortion for every three live births in Victoria, that we will continue fight for the unborn child and the care of the pregnant woman contemplating an abortion.

In turning to the VLRC Report, The Law of Abortion, it is not difficult to see that the report has been framed for the benefit of abortion facilities and their staff rather than for the benefit of the pregnant woman and her developing unborn child.

Thus we do not see why if a medical practitioner performs an abortion not authorised by law he or she should only be subject to professional sanctions and not criminal sanctions, as the report advocates.

This failure of the report to concern itself only with the interests of the abortion industry and not the women seeking abortions is in part due to the government’s own restricted terms of reference.

What we find interesting in the report is the inclusion of an assessment of community views (“standards” is the word used in the terms of reference) but also a statement (report, p12) that “we have (not) been asked to make judgments about the ethical and philosophical arguments concerning abortion”. How it is possible to undertake a review of community standards without considering “ethical and philosophical arguments concerning abortion” entirely escapes us. Certainly, the great majority of the submissions - given the government’s directive to take into consideration community standards in devising the options for changing the law - have entered into a discussion of the ethical and philosophical arguments.


In point of fact the commission has revealed its own allegiance to a certain set of ethical and philosophical principles, by recommending that the new abortion law should not contain humane measures such as information provisions; counselling or referral to counselling; a built-in delay or cooling-off period; restrictions on where abortion procedures may be performed; or anti-coercion provisions (report, p8, recommendations 4-7, 16).

It can be argued that all of these measures would positively benefit any woman faced with this heavy decision, and unarguably they would improve the chances of survival for the life in her womb.

The commission has totally failed to give any consideration, and it would argue due to Mr Hulls’ terms of reference, to the welfare of women. Yes, protection to the abortion industry, but not to women. There is an ever expanding database of women having an abortion and paying a terrible cost.

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About the Author

David Palmer is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

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All articles by David Palmer

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