Several leading members of the recently re-elected coalition government have poured petrol on the smouldering Australian abortion debate by calling for review of the situation. Health Minister Tony Abbott has insisted a number of times that there are too many abortions. “Just about everyone from the most strident pro-choice people right to the other end of the spectrum says that it would be good if we could bring the number of abortions down,” he told the Australian newspaper. ” Abbott has the strong support of Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and several other MPs.
While nothing specific has been proposed by Mr Abbott, the words too many abortions” in the mouth of a powerful and aggressive young minister raise the prospect of withdrawing government funding or imposing restrictions on some procedures, such as late term abortions. Abortion-rights supporters are infuriated. Feminist Wendy McCarthy, of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, argues that abortion may be a painful choice but it must be available for women as a fundamental right.
The debate on abortion was settled long ago in the 1970s, say other sympathisers. Australia accepted abortion on demand then and the clock must not be turned back. Their opponents retort that after 30 years much more data is available on the effects of abortion on women, that abortion has now become a lifestyle choice rather than a desperate necessity, and that technology has made it possible for a foetus to survive earlier than ever before.
Surprisingly, there are no accurate statistics on how many abortions are done in Australia annually, the types of abortion and why women have them. The accepted figure is between 70,000 and 100,000, or one out of five pregnancies.
Prime Minister John Howard, while not a champion of abortion, has declined to back changes to abortion legislation. He recently issued a veiled warning to his health minister not to allow personal convictions to interfere with arrangements which are currently legal.
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