Tuesday 19 November 2013

Hansard of the Legislative Council



BILL 2013 (No. 24)



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Wonders never cease to amaze, Mr President, I agree with the member for Western Tiers. I do not see any reason why having an abortion in Tasmania should be classed as a criminal offence, and therefore I support this bill in principle. However, like other members, I have some reservations. I will detail those shortly, and I am sure there will be a lot of other points mentioned in the Committee stage, by the look of the raft of amendments that we have had delivered to our seats.

This bill, by taking abortion out of the Criminal Code, makes it a medical procedure, and it becomes a matter between a woman and her doctor. A woman's decision to have an abortion is stressful enough without having to worry about criminality. Let us bear in mind that Tasmania's 89-year-old Criminal Code currently sentences with up to 21 years jail any woman who terminates an unwanted pregnancy. I know no-one has been prosecuted for many years.

Mr Dean - Never.

Mr FINCH - Nevertheless a potential 21-year jail sentence is a nonsense. Would you agree, member for Windermere?

Mr Dean - I would agree. That is why it has never been imposed.

Mr FINCH - No, but that has to be cleaned up. It is just silly to have it there.

Ms Forrest - It also makes access to terminations for women outside the major cities very difficult, and that is the issue here, the access.

Mr FINCH - Yes. Mr President, a woman, as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, ought not to have her whole future placed in jeopardy either because of physical or psychological problems or severe financial problems. Financial difficulties do not only threaten the wellbeing of a mother and a family but also of a child, perhaps for many years.

I know that many people in my electorate have heartfelt views on the issue of abortion, there is no doubt about that. I appreciate the contact I have had from them to let me know how they are feeling about this. We can operate in a bubble but unless our constituents let us know what they are feeling, we are one-dimensional. I appreciate the fact that I have had the contact. I hear about some of the distressing calls and contacts we have had but they wash over me in the big picture. We have to have our constituents contact us and communicate with us and let us know what they are feeling, even if we do not align our thinking to what they are saying.

However, this bill is not directly about abortion. The debate about abortion has already happened. I believe there is no evidence that taking abortion out of the Criminal Code in Tasmania would increase the number of abortions. That will not occur. I believe it may lead to fewer late-term abortions. As I have spoken about it with Mark Brown today, I believe that greater education is the issue that we should be dealing with. It is that constant education that must go on because we can educate to a high degree and run all sorts of programs and say, 'Oh boy, we've done our job'. That has to be revisited, it has to pick up the next generation and the next generation and be there as a reminder. Education is a very strong factor in my thinking.

It means that women on low incomes in regional areas would have public access to the procedure, as highlighted by the member for Murchison and, also in agreement with the member for Western Tiers, I do not see why a woman attending an abortion clinic should be subjected to harassment and vilification. I support provisions in the bill to prevent that. I also support the allowance for a doctor or a counsellor to refuse to be involved in abortion on the grounds of conscientious objection; I agree with that.

But the reservation I mentioned earlier is about the size of the proposed fine for a doctor or counsellor who refuses to make a referral, and I am sure that will be discussed more.

Ms Forrest - There is no fine for the doctor.

Mr FINCH - No. As I said earlier, many people have heartfelt views on the issue of abortion and, like other members, I have been lobbied extensively on this bill, both for and against. At this stage I would like to make clear that personally I have no strong feelings on this bill one way or another. It is not going to have much effect, if any, on the rate of terminations in Tasmania.

I am very aware that many people and organisations oppose this bill and oppose abortion, and most of their arguments are based on the belief that life begins at conception. Christian groups, such as the Australian Christian Lobby, have put forward extensive arguments against abortion and again to Mark Brown, I appreciate the contact we have had and that information. As I said earlier, this bill is not directly about abortion. Nevertheless, I looked closely at the arguments but I think it is stretching things a bit by using arguments against the decriminalisation of abortion to oppose abortion itself. I believe this reform is long overdue and I support the bill.