The Reproductive Health Bill is supposed to decriminalise and remove impediments to abortion.
However, abortion at all stages has been legal for 12 years, and procuring an abortion is as simple as making an appointment. No referrals required. (The abortionist and a colleague provide the necessary signatures.) Everything sorted in one visit.
Tasmania hosts relatively few abortions after 12 weeks, but this has nothing to do with the law. The government has admitted that its aim to increase "service delivery" hasn't worked, and the reason why is that Tasmanian abortion clinics lack the facilities for second and third trimester abortions.
Claims that the law is an impediment are grossly misleading.
Changing the law to allow invasive surgical abortions by non-surgeons won't give abortionists the necessary hospital facilities or reduce the costs of fulfilling regulations. Nor will it increase the number of doctors willing to perform abortions.
According to Fertility Control Clinics' Dr Kathy Lewis, decriminalisation is less of an issue than the lack of doctors willing to specialise in abortion; and Family Planning Tasmania's Glenn Campbell suggested that doctors conscientious objection is an issue. The fuss about removing abortion from the criminal code is duplicitous.
The government's own information paper reveals what's actually at stake. For example, it notes that under current law "there is no obligation" for a counsellor or doctor to refer if they have a conscientious objection. The bill changes this and requires them to violate their conscience and neutrality.
This follows the Victorian example, of course, but it's seldom mentioned that AMA Victoria still wants the legislation amended or that some doctors object because they believe that abortion harms both mother and child, violating the first rule of medicine: do no harm.
The bill also creates 300-metre-diameter restricted areas with the purpose of eliminating "intimidation, harassment, obstruction or similar", areas that will be created automatically anywhere a clinic opens.
But it's already an offence to do these things or to even hold a demonstration without a permit. So why these extra restrictions on freedom of speech, with special penalties of up to $65,000 and 12 month's jail, impinging on public space (including a church) well out of sight of clinics?
Will signs be erected warning citizens to hold their tongues as they enter "abortion zones" governed by the provisions of the Reproductive Health Act? What other privileged industries will the government wrap in cotton wool with access zones and exorbitant penalties?
Changing the law won't increase access to abortion, but it will trample on fundamental civil liberties, and all fair-minded Tasmanians, whether pro-life or pro-choice, should oppose this bill.
Mishka Gora is a Tasmanian writer and photographer. Her articles on the international war crimes trial of two Croatian Generals formed an important part of the successful campaign to prove their innocence, and her writing continues to focus on matters relating to conscience, justice, and the former Yugoslavia. She is author of the novel Fragments of War and the Northern co-ordinator for Human Rights for the Unborn Tasmania, a new coalition of Tasmanian individuals and community groups dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights for children still in the womb.