Abortion Rights under attack in ACT
By Lara Pullen
CANBERRA — In August 1992, following six months of intense pro-choice agitation, the ACT Legislative Assembly voted to repeal the 1978 act which prohibited abortion in all but limited circumstances and permitted performance of the procedure in those prescribed circumstances only in public hospitals.
Women in the ACT are now in the same situation as our sisters in NSW, that created under a liberal court ruling which allows a blind eye to be turned. So, we will be tolerated. But for how long?
The ACT minister for health, Wayne Berry, prefers to move quietly. Following the very close vote to repeal the 1978 law, Berry assured some pro-choice activists that money would be forthcoming within a health budget to fund abortion services — if the pro-choicers quieted down and took the heat off the issue.
Twelve months have passed, and it seems we have been good little girls, as Berry has found it possible to include in the 1993-94 health budget some funds for the refurbishment of the Civic Health Centre to bring it "up to a standard which will permit surgical procedures, including abortions, to be performed there".
The Family Planning Association is to be moved to these premises and will now, it seems, be able to provide abortion services.
But the ACT Right to Life has launched a major campaign against women's right to choose, assisted by Berry's allocation of funds without either cabinet or government approval and with no public support campaign in action. In fact, given the mere $100,000 which has been allocated, it is hard to see what all the fuss is about.
The ACT Right to Life Association has already spent a large amount on its campaign, beginning in 1992 with the production and distribution of glossy leaflets to
every household in Canberra, the staging of a revivalist-style rally and even the hiring of an aircraft to fly an anti-choice banner over a pro-choice rally.
Following the announcement of the health budget, Right to Life declared an intensification of its campaign, including a media blitz and the placement of prominent advertisements in every Saturday's Canberra Times between now and the 1995 elections for the ACT Assembly, attacking both the right to choose and the ALP.
Catholic and Anglican bishops have spoken against the provision of abortion facilities, and the Catholic archbishop has urged his parishioners to do "whatever possible to defend every person's right to life".
Canberra women and men who support women's right to choose are organising to fight the fundamentalist campaign.
The ACT woman of the year, Dr Dorothy Broom, has publicly called on pro-choice supporters to respond to each anti-choice media release by pledging a donation to the Family Planning Association; this call has been echoed by the Canberra Women's Health Centre. (See Meetings ... Parties ... Anything, page 30, for forums and activities on this issue.)