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Reproductive Health Services for Women

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Tags: Surgical Terminations, Reproductive Health

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a very important subject for us to be debating. It has been - it always will be - but particularly since the private service closed in December last year. I have listened very carefully to the debate, as I do on this issue, and I am going to say something a bit controversial here. I believe both sides of this debate are doing their best within the confines of the situation we are in, because I have not seen a department act so quickly as it did following the parliament's decision to direct the minister to ask his department to consult with stakeholders and provide advice. That was not more than a month ago and we have before us now some advice which is hard to criticise in its substance. If we acknowledge that in the best of worlds women would have access to safe, surgical terminations in the public system, and that is a question of women's human rights, at the moment we are not operating in the best of all worlds. I do not think this comes down to the minister's personal ideology, to be honest.

I went back and found a few words of the minister from 2005 in the federal parliament debate when young Australian man, Nguyen Tuong Van, was executed. It was a debate over the abortion pill RU486 and Mr Ferguson said:

It is breathtaking hypocrisy for some people in the Australian Parliament to be fighting to save one young man's life while at the same time fighting for a drug which will allow the death penalty to be imposed on unborn babies.

So you can understand, minister, why the women on that side of the House question your own personal views in relation to the policy decisions that have been made and the response to the fact that there are numerous barriers to Tasmanian women accessing safe, affordable terminations in Tasmania. There is a suspicion, minister, about what is inside your value set and how that might influence the application of policy and services, but I cannot find any evidence of that in the department's advice, which I have read and read again in order to try to understand what the options are here.

It is very clear that Tasmanian women who find themselves in that situation right now have extremely limited options. We are saying to them, until at least October, either you pay $2500 for a very limited service or get on a plane to Melbourne, away from your family, friends and support network, or to Sydney. That is the situation we have been in in Tasmania since December 2017. It is our strong position that access to surgical terminations should be publicly funded and available in the public system, but we are not in that space here right now. We will be watching the minister's conduct very closely because there is now an understanding in the community that there will be accessible and affordable service available to Tasmanian women in October this year. For women who live on the north-west coast there will be little comfort in that because it still means travelling, but that is the situation we appear to be in.

I acknowledge the frustrations of Ms O'Byrne, who has been the most fierce and effective advocate of women's right to choose in this parliament since Judy Jackson and Fran Bladel. It is because of Ms O'Byrne's tenacity and commitment that access to terminations is now legal in Tasmania; it is decriminalised. This is an evolution of policy and services and we need to move towards the time when there are not these barriers to women.
I suggest that in the first instance the minister have a look at the testimony from Ms White's constituent and at those criteria because they would seem to me to be designed to lock women out of accessing the public system under most circumstances, and that is not acceptable.

Mr Ferguson - It has been misrepresented today and I can give you further information.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. I also urge you, minister, to have a look at those criteria because that set of questions the woman in that situation was asked are inappropriate. They are questions that establish barriers to access in the public system and at the very least they need to be examined because it should not be that difficult. Here we have someone who is obviously in a very stressful situation, on a low income and in a state of psychological pain, who clearly should be able to access a surgical termination in the public system in Tasmania but who, because of the criteria which presumably have been in place for some time, cannot do that. On behalf of the Greens I extend my empathy to that Tasmanian woman.

I know this will disappoint Ms White and Ms O'Byrne but right now I am not prepared to get into a froth over this because it is such a sensitive matter. We have to be very careful when we are talking about this subject, given the deeply held views in this Chamber but, more importantly, the situation Tasmanian women are in right now, so we need to be very careful about the language we are using.

We need to acknowledge the barriers. Cost is a barrier, travel is a barrier, poverty is a barrier, lack of access to contraception is a barrier, lack of effective sex education in schools is a barrier, and this is something we need to keep working towards so that the day comes when access to these medical procedures is available in the public system, because public hospitals are not just about saving lives but there are circumstances where a surgical termination will save a woman's life.