Evidently still smarting from his defeat on RU486, health minister Tony
Abbott has been pushing for a new scheme of government-funded
“counselling” on abortion. As yesterday’s Australianreported,
“Mr Abbott is determined to bypass abortion clinics and ensure that the
optional counselling is provided by independent counsellors,
psychologists and church groups.”

Cabinet approved the scheme this week, with a warning from the prime
minister “that Australia’s abortion rate is too high”. And the
sentiment is not confined to those who are anti-choice; many supporters
of abortion rights seem happy to jump on the bandwagon, with the mantra
that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”.

But targeting the abortion rate in isolation makes no sense. It would
be like announcing that the rate of open-heart surgery is too high. In
one sense, yes – it would be good for any medical procedure to be
needed less. But if people need open-heart surgery, they should have
it: the proper way to reduce it is to reduce the incidence of heart
disease.

The problem here isn’t abortion, the problem is unwanted pregnancy, and
we can reduce that by better sex education and availability of
contraception. But Tony Abbott isn’t saying much about that. Nor is
there much prospect that his chosen counsellors will be supporters of
reproductive choice. According to Natasha Stott Despoja,
the government already funds “pro-life” counselling to the tune of
$240,000 a year. Dedicated pro-choice counselling gets nothing.

The opposition seems happy with abortion counselling, but thinks women should be able to choose the service they want rather
than just rely on a government-funded provider. That’s what, when it
comes to education, we call a voucher system. Interesting that Labor
shows so little enthusiasm for that idea when university funding is
discussed.

Peter Fray

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