Abortion reform needed for women's health

Issue 

Opening an October 23 public forum organised by Reproductive Choice Australia, Leslie Cannold, Melbourne Age columnist and author of The Abortion Myth, said that Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks had stated he favoured keeping the status quo on abortion, even though the ALP's election platform calls for its decriminalisation.

In the Victorian Crimes Act, abortion is defined as "unlawfully" attempting to induce a miscarriage. However, in 1969 the Victorian Supreme Court ruled that an abortion is not "unlawful" if a doctor believes it is necessary to preserve the woman's life, or her physical or mental health.

The forum was addressed by the ALP's Wayne Berry, who helped lead the campaign to decriminalise abortion in the ACT. Berry said polls show that most people support women's right to make their own decisions about abortion.

Lesley Vick, a reproductive law expert and former president of Family Planning Victoria, argued that bad laws don't stop abortion, but make it less safe. According to Vick, 70,000 women around the world die from illegal and botched abortions every year, and out of 45 million abortions performed each year, 17 million are illegal.

Dr Lachlan de Crespigny, an obstetrician at Melbourne Ultrasound for Women, argued that having abortion in the Crimes Act, rather than the health act, exposes doctors to legal prosecution and removes access to abortion for many women. He explained that many obstetricians are now thinking twice about performing abortions due to media sensationalising of "controversial" cases and the lack of legal clarity surrounding abortion. The current laws, he said, compromise appropriate health care for women.

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