Rally for abortion rights in ACT
By Sue Bolton
CANBERRA — "No cop-outs, no committees, we've waited long enough" was the chant from the crowd as Wayne Berry, minister for health, introduced the Termination of Pregnancy (Repeal) Bill in the ACT Legislative Assembly. The chant was in response to a statement by chief minister Rosemary Follett that the issue might be referred to a committee.
Up to 250 women, men and children gathered on June 16 to show their support for the bill and for an abortion clinic in the ACT.
Speakers at the rally in support of repeal included the two independent MLAs, Helen Szuty and Michael Moore. Maureen Sheehan, assistant secretary of the ACT Trades and Labor Council, read out a motion passed by the TLC supporting repeal of the act and the establishment of an abortion clinic in the ACT.
Both Maryanne Campbell from the ACT Pro-Choice Campaign, which organised the rally, and Lara Pullin from Resistance pointed out that, although they supported the repeal of the Termination of Pregnancy Act (1978), this would not result in an abortion clinic in the ACT. Campbell called for "an abortion clinic to ensure women have the right of control over their own health".
The 1978 law was enacted to prevent the establishment of a free-standing abortion clinic by restricting abortions to the public health system.
To obtain an abortion in the ACT, a woman has to get a general practitioner and a specialist to support her in a referral to the medical superintendent of the public hospital. If the medical superintendent approves the woman for an abortion (there is a quota of 200 per year), her name is put on the elective surgery waiting list.
With the closure last year of one of the two public hospitals in Canberra, the waiting list has blown out. The woman might be on the list until the second trimester of pregnancy, or worse, until it is too late for an abortion.
The only other hospital in Canberra, Calvary Hospital, refuses to perform abortions, vasectomies or sterilisations on religious grounds.
Rosemary Follett and Kate Carnell, opposition spokesperson for health, have both said that they would support repeal of the Termination of Pregnancy Act but would oppose the funding of an abortion clinic. Between 1500 and 3000 ACT women travel to Sydney each year for abortions.
Lara Pullin called for "the reopening of Royal Canberra Hospital and other closed health facilities as a first step ate health services for all, and the funding of an abortion clinic in the ACT. The Follett government is just playing a game of divide and rule. We can't fall into that trap."
At the Pro-Choice Campaign meeting the following day, it was decided to extend the campaign by calling for the repeal of all laws which make abortion a criminal offence. For further information, ring Lara on (06) 258 8845.