It’s 2019 and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared that he’s “disappointed” abortion has become an election issue because it’s not a debate that “tends to unite Australians”.
“This is a very controversial and sensitive issue and on these matters I have never sought to divide Australians on this,” he responded, when asked about abortion during a presser at the reopened Christmas Island immigration detention centre.
“I’m a bit disappointed that it is being raised in the eve of [an] election in a very politically charged context.”
That context is that Labor announced a bold new policy in early March, meaning that abortion is going to become part of the conversation whether the PM likes it or not.
What’s the Liberals’ official policy on abortion?
Neither the federal Liberal Party nor the Coalition have announced any specific reproductive health policies for the 2019 election (which is yet to be called), and the Liberal Party’s official site doesn’t mention terminations or reproductive health specifically in either their Health or Women policy pages.
Scott Morrison was asked about abortion during a media trip, where he explained how “disappointed” he was.
“These are matters that are dealt with by the states and territories,” he said. “I have no desire to overstep what the constitutional authorities are of the Commonwealth in these matters.
“I don’t find that debate one that tends to unite Australians and I certainly am not going to engage in the political elements of that discussion because frankly, I don’t think it is good for our country.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told Buzzfeed News that the federal government has no jurisdiction, as abortion is a state and territory issue, but is “currently working with women’s health groups and the medical profession to develop a new women’s health policy which will be released soon”.
It’s unclear whether he’s referring to an election policy or to the government’s Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030. The draft strategy does not contain the words “abortion” or “termination”, although one planned outcome reads:
“Improve access to sexual and reproductive health information and services that offer options to women to empower choice and control in decision-making about their bodies, including contraception and unplanned pregnancies.”
The Women’s Economic Security Statement launched in November last year says in a health-focused section that: “The Government recognises that women have specific health needs at different stages of their lives, and is committed to providing healthcare that supports women – from birth to childhood and adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and ageing.”
The words “abortion”, “termination”, or “reproductive” do not appear in the document.
GOAT contacted the office of Federal Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer to request clarification on any official party policy, but we’re yet to receive a response.
So what’s Labor said to kick all this off?
On March 6, Labor unveiled an ambitious policy around reproductive health. The proposal would tie Commonwealth funding to the consistent provision and availability of termination services in public hospitals.
Labor’s policy also includes a discussion about the government rebates for long-acting contraceptives like IUDs and Implanon, as well as longer-lasting prescriptions for the pill so people don’t have to go back to the doctors as often just to re-approve pill scripts, and support to increase the number of GPs who can administer medical terminations using the “abortion pill”, RU-486.
“Access to legal, safe, affordable reproductive health services varies across Australia,” Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek said. “This requires national leadership. Medicare and the PBS are both the responsibility of the federal government.
“Every Australian woman should have access to the health services they need, where and when they need them.”
Labor would also support efforts to decriminalise abortion in NSW and across the country.
All Australian women should have affordable access to the reproductive health services they need. So proud of this Labor policy.https://t.co/whoe5PE7QU
— Catherine King MP (@CatherineKingMP) March 5, 2019
Any federal reproductive health policy would need to take into account each state and territory’s rules about abortion.
The procedure is still in the criminal code in NSW, although it can be accessed by pregnant women where a doctor confirms it will have a severely detrimental effect on their mental health.
In Tasmania, abortion is legal but only available in public hospitals in case of an emergency, with no low-cost options available in the state.