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Victorian Late-Term Abortion Legislation

Tuesday, 24 May 2016  | Ethos and Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Executive

In October 2015, the Infant Viability Bill was introduced into the Victorian parliament by DLP Upper House MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins. It is due to be debated in the Upper House this week (25-27/5/2016). The revised Bill now aims to make all abortion after 24 weeks illegal (with penalties for the doctors and medical facilities involved, not the woman) except in a medical emergency. It also mandates ‘practical support’ for women seeking termination after 24 weeks, and mandates attempts to care ‘with the intent to save the infant's life if at all possible’ if born alive after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is based on the widely accepted understanding that the foetus after 24 weeks is viable.

The provision for practical support for mothers seeking abortion after 24 weeks, while laudable, would need to be spelt out much more. How much social and practical support is envisaged? And at what cost? And can a government mandate social support?

Even if one considers that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy, this is not the same as the right to kill an unborn child. A pregnancy may be terminated by either killing the foetus and then extracting it, or by the delivery of an intact, potentially viable child.  Already, when a termination of pregnancy is required for medical reasons, such as if the mother has cancer and requires chemotherapy which should not be administered while she is pregnant, the practice is to wait if necessary and if possible until the foetus is viable and then undertake a premature delivery (vaginal or Caesarean), with every attempt to save the life of the child.

A possible alternative to this Bill would be to require all terminations after 24 weeks to be performed using a method which does not have as its primary aim the death of the foetus (such as dilatation and extraction) but rather aims to deliver a live baby so that medical treatment to sustain life can be given, if judged medically appropriate. If the mother did not wish to raise the child herself, such babies might then be available for adoption.

Published jointly by Ethos and the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities (SRC) Executive

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