There’s fresh moves inside extreme conservative ranks to reinstate a ban on foreign aid funding to organisations with links to abortion, warns Senator Janet Rice.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is calling for a ban on foreign aid funding for abortion services and there’s a real danger that some on the cross bench, and perhaps even our Prime Minister, will listen – even though this would lead to the deaths of thousands of women.
One of Donald Trump’s first acts as President was to reinstate and expand George Bush’s Global Gag Rule; an executive order banning US foreign aid from going to organisations that discuss or perform abortions.
In Australia, the ACL has taken its cue from Trump and gleefully announced a push for Australia to copy President Trump’s order.
This may seem a bit audacious given the majority of Australians support safe and accessible abortion, and the issue is far less contentious here than it is in America.
However, the idea that it is of moral importance to make it harder for women in developing countries to access safe abortions is not a new one in Australian politics.
In 1996, Prime Minister John Howard did a horse trade deal with Independent Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine, a staunch defender of conservative Catholic values, in order to get the selloff of Telstra through parliament.
As part of gaining Harradine’s support, the Howard government introduced the very ban the ACL is now calling for.
No Australian aid went to any family planning agencies in developing countries that discussed or performed abortions.
Banning funding for safe services does not stop abortions; it just forces women to underground clinics for unsafe procedures.
The World Health Organisation estimates as least 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortions, with millions more suffering permanent and debilitating injury.
The Australian ban was overturned by the Rudd government soon after John Howard’s defeat, but not before the maternal death rate in neighbouring Papua New Guinea had jumped by 56 per cent, with sepsis from unsafe abortion being one of the leading causes.
In order to pursue his legislative agenda, Prime Minister Howard traded away the lives of thousands of the world’s poorest women.
Access to safe and affordable abortion – a health care choice – should not be the plaything of mostly male politicians.
Nor should it hinge on where a woman lives or her economic status.
But we now have lurking on the cross bench some politicians who think they know best for women and so feel they have the right to make health care choices for them.
One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts is a prime example. He asserts that some women enjoy sexual harassment and that abortion is part of an anti-life UN conspiracy.
One Nation also endorsed a candidate in the WA election who is an avid anti-abortion campaigner, who regularly protests outside clinics.
And of course, there is the anti-abortion Cory Bernardi who, having started his own party, is doubtlessly keen to cast himself as the true flag bearer of conservatism.
Add to that a government that’s proven willing to make compromise after compromise in order to get its legislation passed, led by a Prime Minister so weak he capitulated to the more extreme members of his party by moving to weaken our race hate laws.
Perhaps you think that there is no way Malcolm Turnbull would enact such an injustice.
After all, he is on the record as being vehemently pro-choice.
But he is also on record calling for decisive action on global warming and marriage equality, and promising the racial discrimination act will remain untouched by his government.
This Prime Minister stands for nothing.
He has tossed aside every guiding principle as soon as it was politically expedient for him to do so.
Earlier this month, a fundraising conference was held to make up for shortfall in funding for abortion services in developing countries in the wake of Trump’s Global Gag Order.
Ministers for Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark pledged millions of euros. Worryingly, Australia showed up with nothing.
A former Prime Minister traded away the lives and bodies of thousands of the world’s poorest women to pursue his legislative agenda and appease a conservative.
The factors that brought this about are once again at play in our parliament.
We must remain vigilant.