Abortion bill process panned by pro-life groups

Pro-life advocate Joe San Pietro participates in a 40 Days for Life vigil near the entrance to a Planned Parenthood center in Smithtown, N.Y., March 26, 2019. 40 Days for Life is a worldwide nondenominational campaign that seeks to end abortion through prayer, fasting and peaceful activism. This year's vigil began on March 6, Ash Wednesday, and concludes on April 14, Palm Sunday. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The release of the report by the Abortion Legislation Bill select committee on February 14 has seen complaints about the process undertaken.

The select committee recommended — by majority — that the bill be passed, with some minor amendments.

Select committee member Agnes Loheni (National) opposed the passage of the bill.

She wrote in a minority view that the Government’s desire to progress their bill at speed has led to a lack of due process, “which is most concerning when dealing with an issue of death and life”. It has resulted in “a bill with significant flaws”.

Very important stories were not heard in person by the select committee, she said, including “voices of abortion survivors, those conceived in rape, and other important stories directly relevant to the matter”.

The select committee received 25,776 written submissions, of which 91.4 per cent opposed the bill. Some 2800 submitters requested to make an oral submission, of which the committee chose to hear from about 160.

The select committee report stated that “inviting specific submitters allowed us to sit as a full committee and ensured that submitters had a longer than average hearing time”.

Voice for Life believed that the committee lacked ideological balance.

Five of the seven members were strident advocates of the bill, and only two were not, Voice for Life stated.

“This lack of balance and the agenda-driven nature of the select committee process was clearly evident when oral submissions were being heard.

“We personally witnessed and experienced first-hand the lack of basic respect that was shown by the committee members who are staunch advocates of this bill”, said Kate Cormack, Voice for Life media spokesperson.

“It was not uncommon to see pro-bill committee members on their phones instead of actually listening to those who were making oral submissions. Then, when it came to question time, irrelevant or even prejudicial questions were [used] against oral submitters who made challenges to the validity of the bill.”

The report stated that the select committee was “grateful to those submitters who shared their views and stories, including their deeply personal, and at times difficult, experiences of abortion”.

“Our report also reflects that our views are based on our consciences,” the report added.

Family First described the bill as “radical and extreme” and stated that it was not surprising the majority of the select committee backed it.

Right to Life expressed its concern about the select committee majority endorsement, describing the bill as draconian, anti-life and anti-feminist.

It called on MPs to vote against the bill at its second reading, reportedly happening next month. Although it is a Government bill, it is subject to a conscience vote in Parliament.

The bill removes existing criminal offences relating to abortion but, upon recommendation of the select committee, would create a new one related to the performing of an abortion by a person who is not a qualified health practitioner.

The woman undergoing the process would not be charged.

Under the bill, abortion before 20 weeks gestation would be treated as a matter between a woman and her health practitioner. Above 20 weeks gestation, the few criteria proposed have been criticised as vague and ill-defined.

The bill also proposes controversial measures concerning safe areas near abortion facilities and about conscientious objection.

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