THE VICTORIAN Law Reform Commission has just delivered its report on reforming abortion law in the state. As is the case in all states and territories, abortion in Victoria is currently illegal.
Limited access was obtained for Victorian women after the 1969 Menhennit court ruling, which decided that an individual doctor has the authority to determine whether an abortion is necessary if the pregnancy poses a “risk” to the woman.
The report presents three options for reform. The first is to enshrine in legislation the 1969 Menhennit ruling, the second to give the woman herself the authority to make that determination for an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation, and the last would give women the power to choose an abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
Full decriminalisation-only represented in the last option in the report-is the only option that would allow women the right to make reproductive choices for themselves. Anything less leaves the state as a “watchdog” over women’s bodies. Restrictions on late-term abortions in particular are often discussed in a manner that depicts women as frivolous, incapable and in need of the state’s “moral” guidance.
Legislating the Menhennit ruling or placing time-limits on abortions would continue uncertainty of access for Victorian women.
Such options also make it easier for the well-organised anti-choice pressure groups to wind back abortion rights in the future, because they concede the principle that abortion access must be regulated or restricted.
While Labor Party policy is explicit in its support for full decriminalisation, Victorian Labor Premier John Brumby has ruled out making it a reality for women. He blocked left Labor MP Candy Broad’s push to put forward a full decriminalisation bill last year in favour of setting up the Law Reform Commission Inquiry.
At the time he assured right-wing critics that he was not looking at “making changes in practice”, but only to the “way in which the law is presented”, implying that he plans to legislate nothing more than a symbolic change that moves abortion from the Crimes Act to the Health Act, but does nothing to recognise women’s rights or improve access to abortion.
The Greens, as well as Pro-Choice Vic and Reproductive Choice Australia, have spoken out in favour of the report’s last option. Mobilising the pro-choice majority-surveys show over 80 per cent of Australians are pro-choice-is needed to put the necessary pressure on the Victorian ALP to truly allow women the right to choose.