A motion introduced by One Nation turned independent senator Fraser Anning calling on the federal government to fund counselling for women "in relation to pregnancy terminations" was defeated on Wednesday.
"We have seen outrage over the destruction of kangaroos, yet where is the same compassion when it comes to an unborn human?" Anning asked the chamber on Wednesday afternoon.
All Australians accessing abortion services in the public or private system are offered counselling, which may go a way to explaining why the motion – which said mothers should be informed of the risks of abortion and alternatives "such as adoption" – was voted down 24 to 14.
In some Australian states, counselling before an abortion is actually compulsory. There is also a free, national, confidential information and counselling hotline for women, their partners, and families relating to issues of conception, pregnancy, birthing, and postnatal care.
Greens senator Janet Rice voted against what she said was a "redundant" motion.
"The federal government already funds pregnancy termination counselling services and online resources, which include information on termination options," Rice told BuzzFeed News.
"[Anning's motion] was pushing the idea that people should be offered counselling that emphasised the risks of a termination and the option to choose adoption, rather than an unbiased set of options."
Rice said Anning's statement to the Senate emphasised a view of abortion that "framed it as immoral" and used "the language of anti-abortion campaigns".
"It was notable that, as a motion that went to the heart of a woman’s right to control her own body, that only one woman voted in support."
Lucy Gichuhi was the only one of the 13 female senators in the chamber yesterday to support the motion, while a dozen male and a dozen female senators voted against it.
The motion was supported by Toowoomba senator Barry O'Sullivan, who last year told BuzzFeed News women with unwanted pregnancies were too "shy" to "reach out" and ask about options other than abortion, and said: "Many in the [Liberal] party and outside would like to lock [pregnant women] up and bind their arms and say 'no abortion could occur'."
The motion was also supported by Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi, who in November introduced a motion against anti-domestic violence organisation White Ribbon because it supports reproductive rights.
It also garnered a yes vote from Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz, who in 2014 claimed there was a link between abortion and breast cancer.
This purported link that has been widely and repeatedly rejected by Australia's medical organisations, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Australian Cancer Council, the Breast Cancer Network of Australia, and the Australian Medical Association.
The nation's largest abortion provider, Marie Stopes International Australia, confirmed that every patient was offered counselling before and after their procedure.
Sophie Keramidopoulos is the counselling manager for the nonprofit and said the wording of Anning's motion suggested a "coercive and damaging form of counselling" that disregarded the rights of pregnant women.
"It appears similar to types of compulsory counselling mandated in a number of states in the United States," Keramidopoulos told BuzzFeed News.
"This compulsory counselling has been proven to risk longterm psychological damage to the woman. We should not be implementing this in Australia as it is a form of reproductive coercion."
All women who are having an abortion in the public or private system are given information about the procedure itself, anaesthesia options for a surgical termination of pregnancy, and pre- and post-abortion care.
They may also utilise counselling about alternatives (such as adoption and foster care), including access to support services that are available if a woman wishes to continue with the pregnancy.
Decision-based counselling needed to be the choice of the woman and not compulsory.
"If she wants an abortion, then accurate medical information needs to be provided to her," Keramidopoulos said. "If she wants to continue the pregnancy, then accurate information and support must also be provided to her."
Only a quarter of women choose to take up the counselling with Marie Stopes, which is higher than the uptake recorded in a 2013 Scottish study that found almost all women requesting an induced abortion had an unintended pregnancy, were certain of their decision, and did not wish to undergo counselling.
For example, in Western Australia a woman must have "informed consent" before terminating a pregnancy. This is defined as a medical practitioner – other than one performing or assisting with the abortion – providing counselling to the woman about medical risk of continuing the pregnancy, and she must be offered the opportunity of referral for counselling prior to, and following, a pregnancy termination, or carrying a pregnancy to term.
A parental notification clause means women under 16 years of age need to have one parent informed, and be given the opportunity to participate in counselling before an abortion can be performed in WA.
Dr. Amy Moten, medical education coordinator of Sexual Health Information Networking and Education South Australia (Shine SA), said there were services around the nation that claimed to give guidance on abortion but provided inaccurate and "sometimes intentionally misleading" information.
"Trying to force a directive counselling service that is neither wanted nor
needed is cruel and places further barriers to access," Moten told BuzzFeed News.
There has been one legislative attempt to address this.
In 2005 reproductive health organisations worked with senator Natasha Stott Despoja to introduce the Transparent Advertising and Notification of Pregnancy Counselling Services Bill (2005), which was designed to ensure that anti-choice services, or those that did not provide referrals for termination procedures, were forced to make this clear when advertising to the public.
A Senate inquiry ran a public consultation on the bill, which was then transformed into the Pregnancy Counselling (Truth in Advertising) Bill 2006, but it did not pass the Senate.
Moten said most people considering a termination had access to confidential and nondirectional advice about all their options, including continuing the pregnancy and parenting, adoption, or termination.
"Any additional funding might be best spent on addressing the social determinants of health which lead to unintended pregnancy, such as domestic violence and lack of access to reliable contraception."
BuzzFeed News has contacted Anning for comment. At the time of publishing his office had not responded to questions, instead sending a press release from Wednesday.
Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Gina Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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