Lobbying Storm in Abortion Pill Debate
POLITICIANS are being inundated with emails, letters and phone calls warning them of a voter backlash if they agree to an amendment that would end the effective ban on the so-called abortion pill, RU486.
The Senate may begin debating as soon as tomorrow an amendment which seeks to overturn the Minister for Health’s approval of drugs that induce an abortion.
The Labor senator Claire Moore, a member of the committee taking evidence on the amendment, yesterday accused other politicians of trying to turn the vote on the amendment into “a referendum on abortion”.
“I want to keep closely to the issue [of approval] but you find yourself responding to some of the statements on abortion generally that have been made,” she said.
Several senators – including the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce, the Liberals’ Guy Barnett and Family First’s Steve Fielding – called for the inquiry into the amendment to be extended.
But their attempts were unsuccessful and the committee will release its report tomorrow.
This could mean it is available just hours before debate on the amendment begins.
The Government is understood to be keen to have the matter voted on in the Senate this week, which would allow it to be debated and voted on in the House of Representatives next week. Both major parties will allow their members a conscience vote on the amendment.
The Government’s leader in the Senate, Nick Minchin, declared yesterday he would vote against the amendment.
The Democrats senator Natasha Stott Despoja said she had received hundreds of letters from people urging her to vote against the amendment.
People had also sent her photos of babies – a tactic she said was “offensive”.
“Just because there are volumes of letters doesn’t necessarily reflect what most people think,” she said. “When you’re getting 10 or 12 letters in the same handwriting with the same postmark in the same envelopes it’s definitely a campaign.”
Lobbying has also begun by pro-choice groups including a US group, Catholics For a Free Choice.
Its founder and president, Frances Kissling, wrote to MPs saying any drug “should be decided by a … professionally qualified government entity governed by science, not ideology”.
“Catholic women overwhelmingly reject the Vatican’s position that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception,” the letter stated.
“To have one more option for early abortion is morally and emotionally a significant advance. It is also an important medical advance, as earlier abortions are safer abortions.”
Bishop Anthony Fisher, from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, told the inquiry that changing the approval process for RU486 would not help reduce abortion numbers.
“The move to chemical abortions … is a new development of major social and ethical import and not merely a pharmacological matter,” he said.
“Australians are deeply concerned that the abortion rate is already too high and clearly this new treatment will not help to reduce abortion.”
HOW RU486 WORKS
- RU486 hormone treatment prevents fertilised eggs implanting in the uterus.
- It is believed to be safest in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
- It is usually used with another drug called prostaglandin, which makes the uterus expel the uterine contents.
- It is licensed in the US, Britain, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and China.
This article originally appeared in the 7 February 2006 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.