Abortion is not a moral issue – towards a binding vote

Michelle O'Byrne is Deputy Leader of Tasmanian Labor

In a supposedly modern Australia – in 2017 – I still find it extremely difficult to believe that women are legally prevented from making decisions about their own bodies.

I find it difficult to fathom that still, as a nation, we remain trapped in an argument around termination that is based on moral belief and principle rather than, as it should be, on health.

The fundamental right for each and every Australian woman to make decisions based on their own health has informed much of the basis of my professional and public life over the past two decades.

It was one of the central reasons behind my entry to politics.

It was why I joined and am still a passionate member of EMILYS List.

It remains an essential part of my commitment to give women across all areas of Tasmanian and Australian society a voice.

In 2013 I achieved one of the proudest moments in my time in the Tasmanian State Parliament with the introduction of the Reproductive Health – Access to Terminations Bill. 

This Bill finally set a path to decriminalise abortion in Tasmania and ensure that access to terminations is treated as it should be – as a health issue. 

It also addressed dangerous, threatening behaviour across Tasmania, across Australia and internationally – specifically outside of services providing reproductive health – which saw increasing numbers of patients, their support people and staff of the clinics harassed and intimidated.

I was also honoured to work with many fine Labor women to implement the first access or exclusion zones in Australia to protect women accessing reproductive health services from intimidation and bullying and threatening behaviour.

Section 9 of the Reproductive Health Bill created access zones of 150 metres around abortion clinics.

In Tasmania it is now prohibited to beset, harass, intimidate, interfere with, threaten, hinder, obstruct or impede a person – whether a patient or a staff member – trying to access reproductive health clinics.

It is prohibited for anyone to stage a protest in relation to terminations that can be seen or heard by people accessing a clinic, or record, by any means, a person accessing a clinic without that person’s consent.

The aim of these provisions is to allow women to safely enter a clinic for the purposes of a termination without disruption or obstruction. They are designed to keep staff and patients safe. They are designed to afford dignity and respect to Tasmanians accessing health services and to give medical staff the right to go about their work without facing threat.

Still, we have so much more to do. 

As a nation, we need to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are decided only by the woman and that safe, legal, affordable options are available. 

I commend the work being done around the country but realise that more support is needed. 

That is why I was proud to join with Ella Haddad at the Tasmanian State Conference to successfully move the motion calling for the 1984 National Conference decision to allow a non-binding vote on abortion to be rescinded.

I was proud and pleased that resolution was carried without dissent. 

In Australia in 2017 it was timely and it was the right thing to do.

Just as it is time that we as a party stop prioritising a perverted type of morality over accessible health care.

I look forward to further progress on this important issue and am proud that Tasmanian Labor will champion the removal of a conscience vote on abortion at the 2018 National Conference.

We must also work to build a stronger National Platform on reproductive health so that Labor stands unambiguously for the right of women across Australia to have unimpeded access to essential health services.

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