Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Australia: Abortion could be decriminalized in Victoria

AM - Abortion could be decriminalized in Victoria

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AM - Tuesday, 21 August , 2007 08:20:00

Reporter: Samantha Donovan

PETER CAVE: Abortion may be decriminalised in Victoria next year.

The Premier, John Brumby, has asked the Law Reform Commission to advise on how abortion can be removed from the Crimes Act and clarify when abortion is legal.

The move is being cautiously welcomed by the Victorian Opposition, while Right to Life Australia says the Victorian Government is deferring debate on the issue until after the federal election.

From Melbourne, Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks had baulked at decriminalising abortion during his years in office.

But it was to be debated in Victorian Parliament today, after the tabling of a bill by Upper House Member Candy Broad.

It proposed decriminalisation in a wide set of circumstances.

Now, just three weeks into his new job, Victorian Premier John Brumby has stepped in and announced the Government will legislate.

JOHN BRUMBY: The reference which goes to the Law Reform Commission will make it clear that the modern laws should reflect, in essence, what is currently the practice. So we are not looking at changes in practice, we are looking at changes the way in which the law is presented, the way in which the law is written, the way in which the Crimes Act is defined and modern community sentiment and modern community practice.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Abortions are currently performed in Victoria under the 1969 Menhennitt ruling, which allows terminations when there is a threat to the physical or mental health of the mother or child.

But Mr Brumby says further clarity is needed.

JOHN BRUMBY: We've had, in Victoria, a legal position which has been dictated not by the law, as made by Parliamentarians, but by the common law, since 1969, and the community, I think, deserves modern laws as voted upon by current members of Parliament.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Upper House Labor MP Candy Broad withdrew her private member's bill after Mr Brumby's announcement, and says she hopes Victoria will draw on the experience of other Australian jurisdictions.

CANDY BROAD: The fact that Victoria is coming somewhat after reforms in other states does give us the benefit of looking at how that experience has worked and not worked in other states, and the ACT experience is the one which is reflected most closely in the bill I've put forward. Now it will be up to the Law Reform Commission in Victoria to have a look at that experience and provide advice to the Government.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Victorian Opposition leader Ted Baillieu says it's disappointing that debate has been delayed again by the withdrawal of Candy Broad's bill.

TED BAILLIEU: It's a shame an opportunity has been missed to clarify the law in Victoria at least, and to ease the burden on women, and also to ensure that this debate takes place in the ultimate public forum, the Parliamentary chamber.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The President of Right to Life Australia, Margaret Tighe, says the withdrawal of the private member's bill gives her group more time to campaign against decriminalisation.

MARGARET TIGHE: Well, I see it as a partial victory. I believe that they have withdrawn from the heat of battle at the moment with an eye on the federal election. I mean, does the ALP want to be known as the abortion party, 'cause quite clearly they would be able to wear that label if they're responsible for decriminalising abortion in Victoria.

PETER CAVE: Margaret Tighe, President of the Right to Life Australia Association, ending Samantha Donovan's report.

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