Faith leaders and pro-life groups are warning that abortion could be made legal up to birth in South Australia as the government pushes extreme changes to the current law.
The proposed legislation removes current safeguards, permitting an abortion by a doctor up to 22 weeks and six days gestation, but beyond that without a gestational limit with the approval of two doctors who consider it “medically appropriate”.
The bill follows a South Australian Law Reform Institute report that in December recommended abortion be regulated under health law. The state’s Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink introduced the bill to the state’s Upper House on 14 October saying it was time to reform the legislation around abortion which is governed under the criminal code.
Currently under SA law, once a child is capable of being born alive abortion is only permitted if needed preserve the mother’s life, while any woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy requires approval from two doctors.
“Allowing abortions up until the time of birth seems to be of very little difference to infanticide,” Bishop Greg O’Kelly sj
The woman must also have been a resident in the state for at least two months, a requirement which would also be removed under the proposed laws.
Archbishop of Adelaide Patrick O’Regan and Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese Greg O’Kelly SJ said the removal of current safeguards would result in more abortions on demand and put vulnerable women at greater risk of economic and social coercion.
“We believe the focus of politicians should be to improve emotional, financial and systematic supports so women are wholly supported,” Archbishop O’Regan said.
“The feedback from counselling services is that many women are struggling with the decision to keep their baby because of external pressures, anxiety about how they will cope and fear of being a parent.
“The impact post-abortion can be ongoing disappointment, anger, abandonment and subsequent mental health issues.”
Bishop O’Kelly pointed out that babies can be delivered at around 23 or 24 weeks gestation with “excellent health outcomes”. At the same time if we expect doctors to end the life of an unborn baby from this gestation age, what message does that send to the community about the value of life?” he asked.
“When we say that a late term pregnancy with medical complications can be ended, what message does that give to people with disabilities and their contribution to society? Allowing abortions up until the time of birth seems to be of very little difference to infanticide.”
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, a leading bioethicist, agreed that if passed the proposed laws would remove the limited safeguards that exist for vulnerable women and their unborn babies.
“The South Australian Parliament can and must do better than this,” he said. “I encourage all Catholics and others of goodwill in South Australia to voice your concerns about this extreme bill to your local MP.”
Australian Christian Lobby South Australian director Christopher Brohier said that as babies of 23-24 weeks are often viable due to advances in medical care, “there is no reason why such a child should not be able to live.”
President of pro-life advocacy group LifeChoice Adelaide Michael Brohier said the bill’s proponents have been disingenuous in omitting to say it allows abortion up to birth of a healthy child. “I’ve had conversations this week with young people who would consider themselves pro-choice or accepting of abortion under certain circumstances who are visibly surprised and not comfortable with that at all,” he said.
But SA Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the proposed laws would bring the state’s laws in line with the rest of the country. “The reforms proposed in the Termination of Pregnancy Bill are based on recommendations by the South Australian Law Reform Institute and have been the subject of extensive consultation,” said Ms Chapman.
“I’ve had conversations with young people who would consider themselves pro-choice…who are visibly surprised and not comfortable with [abortion possible up until nine months] at all.” Michael Brohier
“This is a based on the understanding that it is a medical procedure which should be treated like any other health issue.”
All opponents of the bill are urging South Australians concerned about it to make their views known to their local members of parliament who in both the Upper House and House of Assembly have been given a conscience vote.
South Australia has a rate of around 13 pregnancy terminations per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years, according to the latest available statistics from the government’s Pregnancy Outcome Unit.
In 2017 that equated to 4,349 terminations of pregnancy notified in South Australia, with 95 per cent of terminations undertaken because of the woman’s mental health, four per cent for congenital anomalies and less than one per cent for “specified medical conditions”.