Expanding Abortion legislation in NT is dangerous for vulnerable women and their unborn babies
A debate will commence this Tuesday in the Northern Territory (NT) Parliment on The Termination of Pregnancy law Reform Bill 2017.
This bill was introduced in Parliament on the 17th February by Labor MP Ms Fynes, the Bill proposes to expand access to abortion across the Territory. Ms Fyles, advocates for the passing of this legislation and has stated that: "Northern Territory women should have the same access to termination of pregnancy as women in the rest of Australia.”
Currently, in NT, abortions up to 14 weeks of pregnancy are legal if there are risks to the life of the mother or the child is believed to be physically or mentally disabled. Abortions up to 23 weeks can also be performed by a medical practitioner if he/she considers the pregnancy to be a serious risk to the life of the mother.
Abortions can be performed by medical practitioners, Aboriginal Torres Strait Island (ATSI) health practitioners, midwives, nurses or pharmacists. Surgical abortions can only be performed in hospitals and the unsupervised use of the RU486 pregnancy termination pill remains illegal.
At this time in the NT, doctors and health practitioners who refuse to do abortions for conscious reasons are also obliged by law to refer women on to abortion providers.
The Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Bill 2017, proposes to make abortions more accessible in NT. It proposed to increase the time limit for abortion to up to 23 weeks of pregnancy, a time where there are documented cases of children surviving outside the mother’s womb.
The Bill also proposes to allow the use of RU486 for a woman up to nine weeks pregnant to chemically trigger an abortion at home without medical supervision.
The proposed changes also include introducing buffer zones around abortion facilities that perform abortions which would make it illegal for sidewalk counsellors to be present outside these facilities.
The demographic circumstances for many women living in NT which include geographic isolation, lack of speedy access to adequate medical care and supports and limited health education in indigenous communities makes such proposed changes to broaden access to abortion highly dubious. Caring for women facing difficult and unplanned pregnancies requires medical services, psychological supports as well as practical resources such as adequate housing and fiscal supports. Government resources should be first invested in such services and supports for women and their unborn children before any further debate occurs on expanding abortion legislation.
If this legislation is passed, women in the NT may be able to easily access medications that would allow them to undergo high-risk procedures without medical supervision such as the use of RU486. Many women live hundreds of kilometres from their nearest medical facility and performing a chemical abortion without adequate medical supervision would be dangerous. There is no ‘back-up plan’ in such as situation if something goes wrong and a woman needs to access urgent medical care. This scenario may also place vulnerable women at higher risk, such as young women, women in abusive relationships and indigenous women as they will not receive the same level of support alone at home that they would normally receive from health professionals if the procedure was monitored and supervised in a health care facility. This proposal rather than empower women, in reality, fails women and places their physical and emotional wellbeing at risk.
It could also be suggested that this legislation also negatively impacts more particularly the indigenous community in the NT. For many indigenous women, health literacy rates are poor and discussions around abortion and options following an unplanned pregnancy are limited. In this light, the proposed legislation would increase the vulnerability of these women by presenting them with options that they may not fully understand what the consequences or the impact of having an abortion may be. It is also questionable whether women in indigenous communities would have the adequate follow-up support following an abortion to manage the medical impact and possible psychological impact following the procedure.
This proposed bill also takes away options for many couples in the NT, rather than what it suggests, giving women more choice. There is a complete failure in the bill to discuss the option of adoption as a possible answer to a difficult or unplanned pregnancy for women. Currently, the number of adoptions in NT is extremely low. Women should be provided with real options and choices. The government should be proposing much more in terms of resource allocation and supports to ensure that adoption is a viable and accessible choice without overburdening women facing this situation.
Further, if this legislation passes, has the government has not given any indication of increased supports and counselling which should be readily available for women when considering their choices. Supports need to also be in place and continue for women who have had abortions as there is well-documented evidence that some women have significant difficulties following an abortion. How is the NT government working to support these women, again particularly those women in isolated and small communities where supports are limited or more likely non-existent?
As debate commences in the House of Assembly (NT) this week, we are asking those in NT to sign this petition to express your concerns in relation to the Bill. There are 25 members who will be voting on this legislation and according to Right to Life Australia who has been working with members of the government, few of these MP’S have committed to vote against the legislation.
Please sign this petition now to send a strong message to the government legislators in the NT that these proposed changes will put women and their unborn children at greater risks. Please sign this petition now to say no to expanding abortion legislation and share this petition with your friends and family in the Northern Territory.
Sign this petition now!
To the Chief Minister of NT Michael Gunner, Opposition Leader Gary Higgins and Members of the Legislative Assembly: