Labor state MP warns of religious groups’ threat to abortion access in WA

Si Gladman / 25 August 2023

A Labor MP in the West Australian parliament has warned his state to “never be complacent” about the threat posed by American-inspired religious groups to women’s abortion rights.

In a speech on the state government’s Abortion Legislation Reform Bill this month, Dave Kelly – who stood down from cabinet as a minister earlier this year – said religious groups in Western Australia would wait for their opportunity to wind back any gains to women’s access to abortion.

The Abortion Legislation Reform Bill – which passed the Legislative Assembly last week and is currently before the Legislative Council – proposes to reduce a number of barriers to abortion services.

“There are groups within Western Australia with very strong religious views that – while at the moment they may be in a minority, they will not go away when we pass this legislation,” Mr Kelly told parliament.

“If we pass this legislation, it will be a great improvement. But those who want to wind back these rights will not sit back and say, ‘That’s it.’ They will continue to agitate around these issues and will wait for a time in the future when they may get an opportunity to wind these things back.

“People may say, ‘It just won’t happen.’ But we have only to look at what’s happened in the United States since the removal of Roe versus Wade to see how far those groups in the United States have been successful in banning abortion.”

Mr Kelly warned that a future Liberal government in Western Australia would reflect the extreme views of the US Christian groups imposing abortion bans. He also used his speech to call out the Catholic Church for supporting such developments in the US.

The Abortion Legislation Reform Bill proposes reforms that include increasing the gestational limit at which additional requirements apply from 20 to 23 weeks, removing the need for multiple medical practitioners and a ministerial panel for late-term abortions, and mandatory counselling requirements.

In a submission late last year, the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) supported the West Australian government’s proposals to remove unnecessary barriers to care and align the state’s abortion laws with other states and territories.

In particular, the RSA supported the proposal for health practitioners with a conscientious objection being required to direct patients to practitioners who would provide the service.

However, the RSA’s submission also urged the government to stop funding religious hospitals that have gynaecological, obstetrics or neonatal services but refuse to provide medical and surgical abortions – an issue the government has avoided.

In his speech, Mr Kelly said it was “ridiculous” that the Midland Public Hospital did not offer a number of health services because it was run by the Catholic organisation St John of God.

“I look forward to the day that Midland Public Hospital comes back into the control of the state and is run by the health department, so that the woman and men serviced by that catchment can get the benefit of the full range of medical services that they deserve,” he said.

Health minister Amber-Jade Sanderson told the parliament that the “major setback for reproductive rights” in the US had “refocused global attention” on legalities around improving abortion access.

“Members of the public, as well as health professionals, have provided clear feedback that our abortion laws are restrictive in the national context and prohibitive to the provision of the best healthcare services to the Western Australian community,” said Ms Sanderson.

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Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

All the more reason.