Matters of Public Importance - Abortion

It's a great privilege to contribute to this debate. I'd like to recognise up-front the very personal and difficult issues that this debate does confront individual senators and people in the public with. I would like to place on record, up-front, that I always would recognise the difficult decision that any individual mother or father has to make in these matters. They are very, very tough decisions, but it is important on an issue of life and an issue of humanity that we do discuss them in a way which really does consider the latest science and information about the formation of human life, including from its earliest days.

This debate often is clouded in a veil of confusion. This motion, for example, seeks to focus on only one aspect of this debate around the criminalisation of it, and seeks to therefore hide the true consequences of some of the proposed changes to laws at state levels that we are seeing in parliaments around the country. Senator Faruqi mentioned that 87 per cent of people—apparently, I don't have the context of the poll—supported decriminalisation. Senator Faruqi—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter—86 per cent of people in Queensland at least, in my home state, are against late-term abortions as well. Yet there is a bill there before the parliament right now which would allow late-term abortions. The legislation says, 'A medical practitioner may perform a termination on a woman who is more than 22 weeks.' The bill is very lax in terms of the restrictions and requirements beyond 22 weeks, because a doctor at that time only has to consider a range of factors, including the social circumstances of the mother. They only have to consider those factors. There are no penalties associated with not considering them. I don't think that bill at all reflects the vast will of Queenslanders, which is to not allow the legalisation of late-term abortions.

As I said, science is on the side of life here. New science is indicating how human a baby is, particularly at that age. At that age, at 20 weeks, a baby in the womb can clasp his or her hands, they can hiccup, they can suck their thumb, and they cover their ears when a loud sound is emitted close to them. They are human in all fundamental respects. In fact, they also, most significantly, feel pain. In modern fetal surgery where surgery is conducted to save a fetus, pain relief is provided to the fetus beforehand. My understanding is that, under this proposed Queensland legislation, there will be no requirement to issue or administer pain relief to a fetus before his or her termination, notwithstanding the fact that some of the practices at that age are quite brutal. I will not go through them right here, but they would clearly administer enormous amounts of pain to that fetus and no pain is usually or normally administered at that time. As I said, this is a complex, personal debate, but it is often clouded by rhetoric without going through those details.

I would like to place on record my own personal circumstances. As the very lucky father of five children, every time I feel, for the first time, a kick or movement in my wife's stomach, I am moved considerably at the miracle that is human life. There is not much more important thing than we have to cherish in our society and in our culture but the nurturing and protection of human life, particularly those lives that are most vulnerable. We are fortunate to live in a society where we protect the most vulnerable in our society, and there is no human being more vulnerable than the unborn.

While these issues are complex, those lives at that age—which, as I said, can feel pain, can laugh and can hiccup—deserve more than an overly simplistic and superficial debate where insults are traded across the chamber from people who have different personal experiences and different views. Those vulnerable lives deserve proper protection, proper discussion, proper debate and there should be a proper reflection of the general people's will on these very important matters.

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