Tasmania leads nation as abortion bill passed

TASMANIA has passed a nation-leading law to protect women from intimidation outside abortion clinics as part of a reform package to decriminalise abortion.

The Reproductive Health Bill passed the Legislative Council nine votes to five yesterday after almost 20 hours of debate stretched across three days, and three months before an exhaustive parliamentary committee.

Pregnancies terminated after 16 weeks will still require the approval of two doctors, as was the requirement for all terminations under the existing legislation.

MLCs made a number of changes to the bill, including scrapping sanctions for counsellors who have a conscientious objection to abortion and may impede access, but other provisions including the Australia-first introduction of a protest-free 150-metre access zone around abortion clinics remain.

The amendments were universally supported in the House of Assembly last night, with opposition health spokesman Jeremy Rockliff saying all Liberal members, to a greater or lesser degree, thought the legislation was improved.

Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne said the passage of the bill the proudest moment of her political career.

``If there is any decision a woman gets to make it's the decision about what she gets to do with her own body,'' Ms O'Byrne said.

``This legislation is the culmination of something I have believed in forever, and many amazing, amazing,  women and men over the years have got us to the point of decriminalisation in Tasmania. 

``I look forward to every jurisdiction having the courage to stand up and say: we don't have the right to interfere with what a woman chooses to do with her body.''

Lobbying has been fierce on both sides. MLCs received fresh emails from some Tasmanian doctors at 3.45am yesterday, saying amendments to the requirements for doctors to refer - made about midnight after a long debate - still didn't appease their concerns.

Nurse and pro-life advocate Amanda-Sue Markham said while amendments made by the Legislative Council ``knocked the hard edges off the bill'', it still raised concerns.

``I think doctors are put in a position where they feel complicit in handing over information or directing a woman for a termination,'' Mrs Markham said.

Family Voice Tasmania spokesman Jim Collins said decriminalising abortion devalued human life.

Hobart Women's Health Centre executive officer said decriminalisation was just the first step in the story, and called on the government to invest in health services to provide greater access.

Ms O'Byrne said the government would work with Tasmanian Health Organisations and private termination clinics to ensure greater access.

HOW THE UPPER HOUSE VOTED:

FOR: Pembroke Liberal MLC Vanessa Goodwin, Murchison MLC Ruth Forrest, Hobart MLC Rob Valentine, Western Tiers MLC Greg Hall, Huon MLC Paul Harris, Apsley MLC Tania Rattray, Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney, Derwent Labor MLC Craig Farrell and Rosevears MLC Kerry Finch.

AGAINST: Windermere MLC Ivan Dean, Launceston MLC Rosemary Armitage, Montgomery Liberal MLC Leonie Hiscutt, Rumney MLC Tony Mulder and Elwick MLC Adriana Taylor.