Abortion's effect on mental health

WOMEN who have access to safe and legal abortions suffer less mental health impacts than those who are denied access, the Mental Health Council of Tasmania has said.

In a submission on Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne's proposed Reproductive Health Bill, the council said it supported decriminalising abortion but did not agree with all sections of the bill.

It said that women who had an unwanted pregnancy did have a higher incidence of mental health problems, but that risk was no higher if the woman had an abortion than if she gave birth.

The submission said that while some women felt sadness or guilt after an abortion the most common emotion was relief.

``The highest-quality research available does not support the hypothesis that abortion leads to long-term mental health problems,'' it said. 

The council objected to a provision that would fine doctors up to $65,000 for refusing to disclose their conscientious objection to abortion or failing to refer the woman on to a non-objecting doctor was contrary to Ms O'Byrne's stated aim of dealing with abortion as a health issue, not a criminal one.

It said that requiring ``open disclosure'', such as a sign on the doctor's office, should be considered instead.

``Professional practice standards and guidelines are the appropriate mechanism for determining what is, and is not, acceptable practice by counsellors and doctors,'' it said.

Pro-life organisations have ramped up their campaign against the proposed legislation as the public comment period draws to a close.

The Human Life Protection Society ran a full-page advertisement in  The Examiner  yesterday, describing a foetus at 24-weeks.

The proposed legislation will allow open access to abortion up to 24-weeks, and access under some conditions past that.

Women's Legal Service Tasmania managing solicitor Susan Fahey described the advertisement as disgraceful and shamed women who often had no choice but to terminate.

``Just 0.7 per cent of terminations occur after 20 weeks,'' Ms Fahey said.

`` We're talking about the mum who has to terminate in order to be able to have chemotherapy or the mum who has been told her baby has a medical condition meaning it will certainly die even if she manages to carry it to term.''

Ms Fahey urged people who supported decriminalisation to read the proposed legislation and write a submission.

Submissions close on Friday. 

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