New Tasmania Legislation Regarding Abortion – Disaster in the Making

David Meadows, Launceston, Tasmania
Change to the existing Tasmanian legislation regarding abortion was initially discussed as a necessary “cleaning up” of the 1924 legislation. It was to be brought in line with current norms by decriminalising abortion for the doctor and mother and not impeding the provision of pregnancy termination services to an applicant. The draft of the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013 was tabled for public comment in early March 2013. It was described as a “copy of the 2008 Victorian legislation” with certain amendments that the Victorian experience had mandated, particularly with respect to protests outside of pregnancy termination clinics. 140 submissions from organisations and 2,050 individual letters (87% of those opposing) were received.

The revised draft Bill tabled in the House of Assembly (Lower House) in April decriminalised abortion and allowed the medical practitioner to authorise or perform abortions up to 16 weeks gestation without justification instead of the current 12 weeks. The revised draft Bill also criminalised demonstrations and public comments
within 150 metres of any place performing abortions resulting in heavy fines but it did not mention the rights of the unborn, or the wishes of the father, or provide the mother with independent counselling. Abortion was decriminalised; while protest at abortion was criminalised.

Following a Launceston prayer breakfast, a group of pro-life supporters decided to organise prayer meetings and protest meetings outside of the Health Minister’s Launceston office. In three successive weeks the protests grew in numbers from 40 to 80 to about 200 and were well covered by local TV, radio and newspapers. Hobart folk held a meeting on 8 April. The packed Town Hall heard various experts speak regarding the legislation. The Bill was passed in mid-April and sent to the Legislative Council (Upper House). It decided to appoint a select Committee, which then called for public submissions. The Committee’s report covering submissions from 47 organisations was tabled in November and subsequently passed.

Approximately 75% of the submissions to the Committee were in support of the Bill in wishing to terminate unwanted pregnancies. The pro-life submissions raised issues of morality such as: Is terminating a life just a medical procedure? Is forcing doctors to recommend termination right? Is criminalising free speech in opposition to termination a denial of democracy?

I personally thought the way many rallied and worked so very hard to publicly present the Christian view of the sanctity of life in the womb was excellent but we failed, in my opinion, to organise some united prayer and fasting. I know from the teaching of Jesus that sheep follow the Shepherd and should the spiritual leaders not wish to join in prayer and fasting, then their congregations as a whole would not do so, which is, alas, what happened. Yes, there were some individuals who responded to the call for prayer but had the ministers or a denomination supported
united prayerful opposition to the Bill, who knows but the outcome could have been so different.