Victoria's new Labor premier, John Brumby, has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to advise on how to reform abortion law. The commission's report is due in March 2008, after the federal election. The move came right before a private members bill was to be put to parliament by ALP member Candy Broad.
Broad's bill proposed abortion be regulated by the Health Services Act, and subject to the same professional standards as all other medical procedures. In Victoria abortion is outlawed under the Crimes Act. Judicial precedents allow abortions to occur, but only if a woman's health is at risk.
Long time pro-choice campaigner and senior lecturer at Monash University School of Rural Health Dr Jo Wainer told Green Left Weekly she supported the move and hoped the end result would look much like the original bill. "Legislation needs to be brought into the modern era. Society is over the idea that women can't be trusted, aren't fully human and cannot make sound moral judgement."
But she pointed out that "there is area for improvement, such as access for rural women, the poor and non-English speaking women". Wainer said that to achieve this "the best policy is to trust women and to safeguard doctors".
The August 21 Melbourne Age argued that Victorians "can be grateful they now have a premier who sees himself as a decisive, cut-through leader". However Brumby has indicated he is "not looking at changes in practice. We are looking at changes in the way in which the law is presented."
Broad has withdrawn her bill and embraced Brumby's move as a "terrific initiative". She said the main aim of her bill was to decriminalise abortion, and Brumby's action seemed in line with that.
Socialist Alliance Victorian candidate for the Senate Margarita Windisch argued, "The goal should be to allow women to control their own bodies — not to simply change the way the law is 'presented', as Brumby wants. While it's a step forward that abortion legislation will be taken off the Crimes Act the result should be judged on the difference it makes to the 'practice' of women's everyday lives — not what's written on a piece of paper. Brumby says he's pro-choice yet he was opposed to Broad's bill, which would have made access to the procedure easier by supporting abortion on demand. Women deserve nothing less than free, safe, legal abortion on demand."