Victoria’s upper house voted down a bill that would restrict and criminalise late-term abortion yesterday afternoon, after a push to institute an American-style Infant Viability Bill failed.

Democratic Labour MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins moved the bill, which would have rolled back abortion laws, including jail terms of up to five years for doctors who terminated pregnancies after 24 weeks. The bill also required that women “in distress” be provided with “holistic care”. If a woman faced a risk of death or “serious and permanent physical impairment” after 24 weeks, doctors would be required to deliver the baby in a unit with neo-natal facilities “with the intention of preserving the child’s life”.

Abortion is legal in Victoria up to 24 weeks, although abortions can be approved after that with the approval of two doctors on medical, psychological or social grounds.

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While the defeat of the bill 27 votes to 11 could be seen as the end of the debate, Carling-Jenkins told the Legislative Council she wouldn’t be giving up:

“Finally, regarding the issue of this debate being settled — for there are many of those in this chamber who have claimed that this debate is settled — I agree with [Liberal member Richard] Dalla-Riva that this debate is not settled. It was not settled in 2008; it is not settled while the DLP holds a seat in this chamber.”

She also responded to critisicm of her religious views, saying that politics needed more Christians. “I am proud to be a Christian in politics; we need more Christians, more Catholics, more faith-filled and more spirit-filled people in politics.”

The Australian Medical Association was opposed to the bill, saying that it “interferes with medical care”:

“It criminalises a medical procedure, and doctors will face up to five years’ imprisonment if prosecuted.

“It dictates that certain medical services must be provided to all patients, regardless of a patient’s wishes or the treating doctor’s clinical discretion.”

AMA Victorian president Dr Lorraine Baker said in a statement:

“By attempting to legislate medical care, this Bill jeopardises good medical practice and decision making on a case by case basis. AMA Victoria urges the Victorian Parliament to vote down this Bill.”

Nationals MLC Damian Drum spoke in favour of the bill, saying that although the bill was flawed, it was better than the current situation. “So I think at the moment simply as a society we are having 50 cents each way on this, and we need some very, very clear guidelines.”

Directly after the debate Drum gave his valedictory speech, as he steps down to run for the Nationals in the Federal seat of Murray, vacated by the Liberals’ Sharman Stone.

Both Labor and the Coalition allowed a conscience vote, with Carling-Jenkins and fellow crossbenchers Daniel Young and Jeff Bourman from the Shooters and Fishers Party voting in favour. Three Labor MLCs voted in favour, and five Coalition members also voted for the bill. Bernie Finn, who has long campaigned against the legalisation of abortion, voted for the bill.

Abortion laws differ in each state, and only Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have decriminalised terminations. In all other states abortion is a criminal offence unless specific criteria are met.

Abortion laws have become a battleground for Victoria’s crossbench; the Sex Party’s Fiona Patten successfully moved a bill to ban anti-abortion protesters from campaigning within 150 metres of clinics, which came into effect this month.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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