Reproductive rights round-up: NSW, Vic, SA, Tas

There’s a lot going on right now in terms of trying to implement fetal personhood provisions and wind back legal abortion around Australia. Here’s the news from four states, anything we’ve missed? What actions are you taking in response?

New South Wales: Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill (No. 2) 2013 has passed the Lower House

Discussion of this has previously appeared on HAT. Since that post, this bill has passed the Legislative Assembly (lower house) following a conscience vote and by a large margin (63 to 26). It will be read in the Legislative Assembly (upper house) in 2014, and if passed there, will become law. Coalition and ALP MPs have been granted a conscience vote by their parties. The Greens oppose the bill. This bill is opposed by the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association, and by the NSW Bar Association. The campaign against this bill is at Our Bodies, Our Choices.

I’d love to publish transcripts of the Greens community forum on this bill (held prior to it passing in the Assembly), but am unlikely to have time to transcribe an hours worth of video for at least another week. If you’d like to help out, here’s the Amara links for subtitling: Julie Hamblin’s speech (about half subtitled to date), Philippa Ramsay’s speech (not subtitled) and Leslie Cannold’s speech (not subtitled).

South Australia: Criminal Law Consolidation (Offences against Unborn Child) Amendment Bill 2013 not passed

A bill with fetal personhood provisions in the case of grievous bodily harm to the pregnant person was recently before South Australian parliament, but was rejected. Information is being made available by Tammy Franks, Greens MLC, see Stop the Misguided Foetal Personhood Laws and the transcript of the reading in Parliament. Unlike in NSW, it appears that the ALP did not allow a conscience vote. The debate opens with Kyam Maher, government whip:

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (00:11): I will be extraordinarily brief. The government does not support this bill.

Victoria: early proposals to remove Section 8

At present, the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 requires (in part):


(1) If a woman requests a registered health practitioner to advise on a proposed abortion, or to perform, direct, authorise or supervise an abortion for that woman, and the practitioner has a conscientious objection to abortion, the practitioner must—
(a) inform the woman that the practitioner has a conscientious objection to abortion; and
(b) refer the woman to another registered health practitioner in the same regulated health profession who the practitioner knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion.

A Victorian doctor, Mark Hobart, is facing deregistration over defying these provisions, and a group of Victorian doctors and nurses called Doctors Conscience opposes Section 8 and advocates for its repeal. The Age reports that Labor MP Christine Campbell intends to table the Doctors Conscience petition in Victorian parliament. (A second Victoria doctor, Dr K. — not Mark Hobart — is discussed in the article, who not only defies Section 8 but has been quoted as expressing the opinion that women who seek abortions deserve death. This is detailed in Daniel Mathews’ blog post which provides quotations allegedly from Dr. K. Doctors Conscience has issued a press release stating that they do not advocate for or support harm to pregnant women for any reason.) The Age also reports that the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association supports the repeal of Section 8.

Today The Australian reported that premier Denis Napthine had advised independent MP Geoff Shaw on what would be involved in overturning (or perhaps substantially revising) the Abortion Law Reform Act in Victoria. The ABC reports that Napthine describes himself as having issued pro forma advice on legislative process.

Bills to repeal Section 8 or make wider changes to the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 are yet to be proposed.

Tasmania removes abortion from the criminal code

On November 22, Tasmania removed references to abortion from the criminal code. In addition, like in Victoria, legislation now requires that doctors (and counselors) who conscientiously oppose abortion refer pregnant people to others who they believe do not have such an objection. A PDF of the Reproductive Health (Access to Abortion) Bill 2013 is available.

Bonus USA

NPR recently reported on the findings of Paltrow & Flavin, Arrests of and forced interventions on pregnant women in the United States (1973-2005) who report:

  • Arrests and incarceration of women because they ended a pregnancy or expressed an intention to end a pregnancy;
  • Arrests and incarceration of women who carried their pregnancies to term and gave birth to healthy babies;
  • Arrests and detentions of women who suffered unintentional pregnancy losses, both early and late in their pregnancies;
  • Arrests and detentions of women who could not guarantee a healthy birth outcome;
  • Forced medical interventions such as blood transfusions, vaginal exams, and cesarean surgery on pregnant women;

… Analysis of the legal claims used to justify the arrests of pregnant women found that such actions relied on the same arguments underlying so called “personhood” measures – that state actors should be empowered to treat fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as completely and legally separate from the pregnant woman. Specifically, police, prosecutors, and judges in the U.S. have relied directly and indirectly on… [f]eticide statutes that create separate rights for the unborn and which were passed under the guise of protecting pregnant women and the eggs, embryos, and fetuses they carry and sustain from third-party violence… [my emphasis]

I think this point bears repeating: provisions that were introduced allegedly for the protection of pregnant people and fetuses from third parties have been subsequently used to police the behaviour of pregnant people, including but not limited to those seeking abortion, and including forcing medical procedures on them, and confining them. Fetal personhood provisions are designed to control the bodies of pregnant people.

Categories: gender & feminism, medicine, Politics

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28 replies

  1. There was a snap action outside Vic Parliament house on Thursday. I don’t facebook at work so I unfortunately missed it even though I’m just around the corner in Albert street. I have told daughter to text me next time a thing like that happens. She and her cohort are staunch and active feminists. This year, she and another 21 y.o. have been sharing the position of women’s officer at Unimelb.
    Last week, her friend and job-sharer got a cruel diagnosis. MS. She had to go into hospital in the inner city to start treatment. A bunch of them went to visit her and they have shared photos of them all madly constructing banners in the hospital room for the snap demonstration. So proud of them all.

  2. The argument in Victoria that doctors should be allowed to follow their conscience seems to me to lead directly to pharmacists refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions, or perhaps police officers refusing to enforce certain laws.
    What about doctors who have ethical objections to smoking or alcohol refusing to treat or refer patients with alcohol or smoking related conditions? Not to mention various bigots who think it’s against their conscience to treat certain ethnicities or GLBT folk?

  3. Kathi Valeii writes:

    Recently, in a debate about personhood, a proponent of the measure asserted that anti-abortion laws do not have implications on pregnant and birthing women. He cited Ireland as an example of a country which has anti-abortion laws and which, he claimed, does not have such problems with forced intervention. Well. Funny he should bring that up. Here’s a peek at Ireland’s laws and how they directly implicate the liberties of pregnant and birthing women.

  4. I honestly don’t see how ‘I don’t do that procedure, but here’s a doctor who does’ impinges on your right not to be involved with procedures you disagree with. On the other hand, refusing to refer someone is actually saying ‘I disagree with your right to have this procedure and I want to make it more difficult for you to do so’. It’s not about your conscience but about trying to dictate to other people.

  5. I support the repeal of Section 8 because I don’t feel that lawyers should be telling me what to do.
    I’m going to raise a counter example: body modification. While I support bodily autonomy, I am not going to amputate someone’s body part because they want it, nor am I going to find out who will. I should have the right to do the same with abortion.
    (I support abortion rights, fwiw, and I would refer, but I want my professional integrity respected.)

  6. If you don’t wish to do abortions go into another area of medicine. Dermatology, paediatrics, gerontology, oncology there are plenty of areas where abortion need never be an issue. As for lawyers telling you what to do – abiding by the law is part of living in society.
    Bodily automony is a tricky area but ultimately if a person has explored all options and still finds that removing a piece of themselves is the best option for their ongoing health, whether that bit is diseased or not, is really up to them. If you are doing harm by refusing to help them then you need to have a good think about why you went into medicine in the first place. You are a Dr not their parent you don’t get to decide. That’s ethics.

    • I’m not a technician. I have professional integrity and ethics. I would refer, because I believe that abortion is in most cases in the best interests of the patient. I would be happy to perform an abortion, even (within the limits of my skill, so only with mifepristone). However, I don’t want to be turned into a technician by the lawyers. I don’t provide medications on demand, I don’t provide procedures on demand, so why should abortion on demand be a ‘right’? Just as Roe v Wade centred on a private relationship between a medical practitioner and a patient, I feel that Section 8 violates that private relationship.

  7. Section 8 is just mandatory referral, isn’t it, not mandatory procedure participation? Ethical doctors with conscientious objections have been doing that without the compulsion of law for decades. I’ve worked with such doctors, with no problems at all (and we co-operatively arranged very prompt referral, extending session times etc where necessary).
    That’s basic medical commonsense and respect (for your colleagues and your patients). Get over it, or get another profession.

  8. I think you’re being a little bit cute there, Hildy. You don’t want the law telling you what to do? Most of the medical profession, plus the pharmaceutical side of it, is governed by regulatory laws in some way, but suddenly it’s intolerable when it involves an abortion, and you compare that with radical body modification? Hmmm. This doesn’t pass the smell test, to me.
    Perhaps “but look at the amputee fetish!” is the new pro-lifer talking point?

  9. But what about patients who want an abortion but only have access to practitioners who will only refer if it is mandatory for them to? Whose right is trumps then? I appreciate you don’t want to be bound by the law but surely the patient has to come first?

  10. Mindy, do those patients exist? There is no requirement for referral in Australian medical law (a referral allows a specialist to bill a referred consultation item, saving the patient about $45).
    Helen, Australian law regarding medical practitioners and restricting their actions is mostly developed by medical practitioners and codified as good medical practice. I’m trying to think of the things that I’m explicitly required by laws developed by non-medics to do, and there are very few:
    – certain rules about prescribing of drugs of dependence
    that’s about it, actually. Most of the rest is encompassed by ‘professional standards and conduct’ – which has traditionally required you to refer for services if they are accepted practice and you have a conscientious objection. I don’t see why abortion has to be singled out as something that is imposed by lawyers, rather than developed within the profession.
    Imagine a Jehovah’s Witness doctor who, instead of prescribing blood transfusions, refers to a colleague. If there was a law requiring referral for blood transfusions, a cyclist who wanted to blood dope would have to be referred to a doctor who did not have a conscientious objection to transfusing for no apparent reason.
    That’s the analogous situation to the Mark Hobart case – if someone came to me asking for a sex selection abortion, I would refuse to refer (and in NSW, I am within my rights not to). With Section 8, I am not allowed to use my judgment regarding the appropriateness of the referral.
    I will come out and say that I have a conscientious objection to 3rd trimester abortion except in cases of foetal malformation incompatible with life, and to sex selection abortion. Otherwise, I think that abortions are good for people – pregnancy and childbirth is dangerous, and the earlier the abortion the better.

  11. The reason the law steps in on the case of abortion (in some places and to varying degrees of efficacy, but maybe someday we’ll get there) is because so many bigoted misogynist fuckknuckles have passionately devoted their lives to depriving pregnant people of the right to abortion. Pushback is required.
    Which is not the case in the case of the vast majority of other medical care, which most of the population in Australia agrees is a Good Thing.

  12. In small country towns where there are only a limited number of doctors available there is a very real risk of a anti-abortion doctor refusing to refer a patient on unless they are compelled to. Because what Lauredhel said.

  13. I will come out and say that I have a conscientious objection to 3rd trimester abortion except in cases of foetal malformation incompatible with life

    Also, can I just say how incredibly strenuously I object to this. As someone who has had pregnancy complications potentially incompatible with my life.

  14. You can’t get abortions in those small country towns, and you don’t need a referral to go to the clinic in the larger town / big city, so the refusal to provide a referral is no practical impediment to abortion.
    The other half of the problem with Section 8 is that you have to be informed of the positions of your colleagues. I don’t really want to know what my colleagues think of abortion because I don’t want it to poison my relationship with them.

  15. Yes but you need to know where to go and not everyone has the resources to find out if their Dr refuses to refer or supply them with that information.

  16. @Mindy, isn’t that what Google is for? Also, knowing which gynaecologist performs abortions is akin to knowing which surgeon does gastric bypasses. I shouldn’t have to know exactly who does what. I should be able to say ‘here is a list of local surgeons, I can refer you to one but I don’t know what operations she does.’
    @Lauredhel, the ethical basis upon which I support abortion (bodily autonomy and freedom from parasites) doesn’t extend to actually actively killing the foetus, but if it dies due to not being able to survive ex utero, so be it. I choose this particular ethical basis because it survives foetal personhood; I don’t want to have to think about whether or not the foetus is a separate life or a ‘person’. This position is not set in stone, but it’s one I can live with for the time being.

  17. Hildy, I can’t find any consistency in your position. You don’t know who performs abortions, but you expect the most unprivileged of the population, who quite potentially have no internet access and may not even be literate in English and may have only managed to transport themselves to you with difficulty and possibly under sufferance from their abusers, etc etc etc, are supposed to readily Google and find out?
    (And do you seriously not know whether the surgeons you refer to are actually qualified/in a position to perform the operations your patients need? That strikes me as a rather odd way to practice medicine, and one that makes life as difficult for your patients as possible. I always made it my job to know whether the people I referred to were actually in a position to provide the consultation and medical services needed. That’s part of what not being a technician is about – you know more than your patients do, and you advise them on how to get help effectively and rapidly if you’re not the one who can provide that help.)

  18. Lauredhel, I don’t know which of the gynaecologists in this town will provide an abortion on request, and although I could probably find out through the medical grapevine, I can appreciate the position of a colleague who does not want to know. A first or second trimester abortion is a procedure that any gynaecologist knows how to do; whether they are willing to do it is a different matter. The requirements of Section 8 are that I find out who will do it and refer the patient to that person.
    I know which surgeons do weight loss surgery, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you specifically which operations they do for that weight loss surgery. I could refer you for a total hip replacement, but I couldn’t tell you who made specific implants.
    I am happy to advise my patients – what Section 8 says is that I can’t give advice; I can only write a referral letter to someone that I know does not have a conscientious objection. That’s far greater than any standard of care I’ve ever seen. I’m not a referral writing machine.

  19. How many referrals are you thinking you will have to write? Also, isn’t it your job to give people the best possible care including giving them a referral to someone who will carry out an abortion if they ask for it?

  20. I’m not a referral writing machine.

    Wow, I would hate to have you as a doctor if that was your attitude to my care.

  21. I’m not a referral writing machine in the same way that I’m not a prescription writing machine. You don’t get painkillers, you don’t get antibiotics, and you don’t get referrals, just because you ask for them.
    Reading the medicare requirements for referrals, a referral made under Section 8 is not a valid referral for medicare purposes – because the need for referral has not been considered.

  22. A patient could mis-use or not really need painkillers, they can ask for antibiotics when they have a virus, but if they are asking for a referral for an abortion it is because they are pregnant and don’t want to be. It isn’t quite the same situation. If they were asking for a referral because they were planning on having unsafe sex and wanted to have a referral just in case it might be the same.

    • Many women are pregnant and don’t want to be, yet we don’t perform induction of labour on demand either.
      There is a certain amount of paternalism built into the system as professional privilege: I do not do things solely because you want them done, I do them because I feel that they are in your best interest.

  23. Many women are pregnant and don’t want to be, yet we don’t perform induction of labour on demand either.

    Yeah well, in my lived experience, that does actually happen. Once because I wanted it to and once because it suited my Dr who wanted me to deliver before he went off on holidays.

    There is a certain amount of paternalism built into the system as professional privilege

    Quite frankly this needs to fuck right off. I was bullied into having a caesar 2 weeks early by the Dr who wanted to go on holidays. It wasn’t in my best interests at all. Nor is it in the patients best interest for any Dr to be deciding, based on the Dr’s feelpinions about abortion, what is best for a pregnant patient.

  24. [This thread is about specifics – such a general question is derailing, and thus has been redacted ~ mods.]

  25. Re John’s comment, I’d prefer that this thread remain focussed on reproductive rights in Australia and closely related issues/findings, rather than being open to any and all reproductive rights discussions and questions.
    As a general note: this is my thread, but I am not available to further moderate it at present. I have asked other Hoyden authors to step in as moderators if at any point they feel it is necessary. So if you see another blogger assuming a mod hat, they are doing so with my permission.

  26. @Mindy, an induction may have been performed those times, but in no way is an obstetrician obliged to induce a 37/40 woman just because she’s had it with feeling pregnant (or refer for it), so why is she obliged to induce/terminate a 13/40 woman?
    Do the woman’s rights suddenly disappear across those six months?
    As I said, this decision should be between woman and doctor, with government not interfering on the pro or anti abortion side.

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