In 2016 medical student Ashley Leong asked then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a question on Q&A about babies that survive an abortion procedure and are born alive. Ashley referred to the 27 babies that survived an abortion in Queensland in 2015, the highest number for a decade.
The Prime Minister was clearly taken aback and described these as "shocking cases", while ultimately saying that the law around abortions is a matter for state governments.
While this is true, the Federal Government has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 6 of that agreement says that "every child has the inherent right to life" and article 24 says that "ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children".
So that we live up to these basic human rights I introduced a Bill into the Senate this week that would protect the rights of children born alive. This Bill would require health practitioners to provide medical care to babies born alive during an abortion procedure. That care may include palliative care if the baby is not viable.
All persons deserve medical treatment regardless of their circumstances. It is not the baby's fault that they have been born alive during an abortion, so there is no just reason for that baby to be denied the same medical care that any other person would receive.
These increased protections are required because the practices on how babies born alive are to be treated are currently vague, and there is likely to be an increase in babies born alive because abortion laws have been relaxed in recent years.
All States in Australia, except Western Australia, now have laws that legalise abortions after 22 weeks. In Queensland, the approval of any two medical officials is required to undertake a late term abortion. Only six countries in the world have as lax laws regarding abortion as these states.
The official Queensland Health guidelines for the termination of pregnancies states that in the event of a live birth "do not provide life sustaining treatment". Under these guidelines signs of life may include the beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, breath efforts or definite movement of the voluntary muscles. Instead of providing any care to the live baby, the Queensland Health guidelines tell health professionals to "document date and time end of life occurs."
The fact that this has to be spelt out at length in an official document reveals that live births do happen during abortion procedures. We do not have good data on how often they happen. But the Parliamentary Library has found that 204 babies born alive during an abortion procedure between 2005 and 2016 in Queensland.
Not all of these babies could survive even if care is provided. But all human beings deserve care at the end of their life. The Queensland Health guidelines coldly say that a baby left to die should be wrapped "to provide warmth". But shouldn't a person at the end of their life be provided pain relief not a blanket?
The Prime Minister's shock at the brutal truth of babies alive during an abortion is understandable because it is a truth that few have dared speak of as we have liberalised our abortion laws. But we should not hide from uncomfortable truths, we should confront them and fix the injustice for the most vulnerable of all human beings, a newborn baby.