Conscience abortion vote likely to be given to South Australian MPs
Supporters of South Australian abortion law reform hope a fresh bid to improve access to the procedure will succeed after both major parties indicated their MPs would be granted a conscience vote.
- South Australia’s abortion laws were created 50 years ago
- The Greens say they are now out of date
- Currently abortions are hard for international students and regional women to access
The bill — introduced by Greens MLC Tammy Franks this afternoon — would remove abortion from the criminal code and create “safe access zones” banning people from protesting within 150 metres of abortion services.
It follows similar laws being passed in Queensland in October, which came into effect on Monday.
Ms Franks said South Australia led the way on abortion 50 years ago, but the state’s laws were now out of date.
Currently a person is unable to access abortion services in South Australia if they have not been a resident for at least two months.
“That leaves international students in an invidious position,” Ms Franks said.
“If a woman lives in remote and regional South Australia, she can’t access easily early medication abortion… she has to travel to a prescribed hospital to take those pills.
“That is unacceptable in this modern era.”
Members of the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition, a group formed in 2016, have been lobbying MPs for their support.
“In the rest of Australia, early medical abortion is now available by telemedicine… that’s not available to South Australian women because of our law,” group member Brigid Coombe told the ABC.
“Given that one in three women will require an abortion in their reproductive lifetime, it’s very important that this is done.”
MPs to be granted a conscience vote
Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink signalled that the Government would allow for a conscience vote, and said a number of her colleagues were likely to be supportive of the push for change.
“I commend Tammy Franks for putting the issue onto the agenda, the laws in South Australia are quite old and now a bit behind other states,” she said.
“It’s a very sensitive issue obviously and I think for all the major parties it [will] be a conscience issue.”
Ms Lensink said she suspected the issue would gain support from some of her Liberal colleagues.
“I think there’s some concerns that the bill that’s being introduced today completely deregulates any oversight over terminations, and I think that’s the concern a number of members will have,” she said.
“It’s really about getting the balance right between how it’s regulated but also providing people with opportunities for freedom of choice.”
Labor leader Peter Malinauskas was unequivocal that he would grant his MPs the freedom to vote as they wanted to, but said he had not decided how he would vote.
“I firmly believe that on matters such as this a conscience vote should be applied,” he said.
“I haven’t had a chance to get a full briefing on the bill… I’ll examine the details of the proposed legislation, examine my conscience and try and arrive at a considered view.”
The bill has been introduced but will not be debated in Parliament until next year.
“Over the summer I hope that members of Parliament will actively listen not just to women’s voices but of course to health experts… as well as the legal profession,” Ms Franks said.
“It will be MP by MP, conversation by conversation.”