Tasmanian Parliament Has Opposed A Move To Address The State's Abortion Access Issues
The politician who introduced the motion has accused the state's health minister of letting his personal views on abortion interfere with his ministerial responsibilities.
A motion to address Tasmania's abortion access situation by providing the procedure in public hospitals has been voted down in the state's parliament.
The Speaker of Tasmania's parliament, Sue Hickey, was the deciding vote on a motion moved by Labor to "provide pregnancy terminations in the public hospital system, under all circumstances in which terminations are permitted by law" by July.
"I am incredibly disappointed that as it stands women will still have to fly interstate to access services," Labor's Michelle O'Byrne, who introduced the motion, told BuzzFeed News. "I'm offended that the [health minister Michael Ferguson] referred to that as a 'choice' women were making."
During yesterday's debate O'Byrne told the story of Tasmanian woman Bianca* who travelled to Victoria in February for the procedure which cost $4,000 for flights, accommodation and medical bills. She had spent weeks trying to access the procedure in Tasmania at a public hospital and the single remaining private provider.
The Melbourne Marie Stopes Australia clinic where Bianca had her procedure reported a dramatic increase in the number of Tasmanian women presenting for surgical abortions since the main provider of surgical abortion service for 17 years in Tasmania shut up shop in January. The provider said that since January the number of Tasmanian women presenting each month in Victoria has risen from one or two to 10.
Bianca stood in the public gallery yesterday as the motion was defeated 12-11.
"As I understand it, at this stage there are two private clinicians who have chosen to be identified as providing surgical terminations," Ferguson said during debate on the motion yesterday. "Much has been said about the government's decision to expand the Patient Transport Assistance Scheme for women who choose to fly interstate to secure a termination service."
He accused O'Byrne of moving a "highly political motion" and said that she did not have the right, from opposition, to direct any minister in a cabinet government.
"There is a private provider interstate who is looking to establish a private lower-cost surgical termination service in Tasmania," he said. "It is my advice that the confirmation of this service is currently subject to commercial negotiations and these discussions are progressing."
O'Byrne said she would reintroduce a "watered down" motion to parliament to continue to "elevate" the issue and hold the government accountable.
Ferguson was absent for O'Byrne's speech but arrived afterwards to offer an amendment to the motion which would remove the onus from himself and instead land responsibility with the government to "provide advice from the Department of Health and Human Services, following consultation with relevant stakeholders".
O'Byrne said the health minister was letting his "personal view" on abortion stifle access to a legal medical service.
Ferguson is anti-abortion and once linked making RU486 available to Australian women as akin to the Singapore execution of Australian Nguyen Tuong Van. He also supported a declaration made by five of Tasmania's churches in 2013 to oppose the decriminalisation of abortion.
Ferguson yesterday told parliament the debate should not be limited to those who were pro-choice: "If we do really respect the range of individuals and their good motivations in this area, we would also respect them for taking a different view that the pregnancy they are carrying is a pregnancy with a potency for human life."
Greens MP Cassy O'Connor supported the motion and compared the state of reproductive rights in Australia and worldwide to the dystopian novel and television series The Handmaid's Tale.
"We live in a culture in which a Texas judge recently referred to pregnant women as 'hosts', abortion is still a criminal offence in Queensland and New South Wales, and the Australian Christian Lobby is fighting to reinstate the global gag rule which denies women from Pacific Island nations rights to reproductive health services and abortion access," she told the parliament.