Coalition Senators Alex Antic and Matt Canavan have found it an opportune time to stir up a scare campaign about babies being born alive due to abortion procedures.
These ultraconservative politicians are insisting that this results in babies then being left “to gasp for breath until they die”, with new laws being necessitated to put an end to this practice.
Introduced on 22 November, the Human Rights (Children Born Alive Protection) Bill 2022 is the second iteration of a private members bill that was first introduced by Christian extremist and former Coalition MP George Christensen.
“In this nation, potentially hundreds of babies are born alive as a result of abortion procedures without any significant subsequent intervention,” said Canavan during his second reading speech on the bill.
The Liberal Nationals Senator then cited “sketchy data”, which suggests 204 babies were born alive in Queensland over a 10 year period as a result of termination procedures, and he added that he considers abortion to be “evil”.
Yet, the reason why the wider community is unaware that live babies are being born alive as a result of terminations is that it’s not true.
Indeed, one only has to speak to an abortion provider to establish that this bill is part of the ongoing far right campaign against reproductive rights in this country.
“The truth is complicated”
“The assertion that children are being born alive as a result of the termination process is propaganda used for shock value, and like all good propaganda, it represents a wild distortion of a grain of truth,” said abortion provider Dr Kamala Emanuel.
“The truth is complicated,” she continued. “The vast majority of abortions occur before foetal viability, and of those, most are in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.”
“What this means is that most terminations occur well before there is any possibility of a baby being born capable of breathing, let alone living.”
The doctor further explained that live births can occur as a result of very late-stage abortions, yet, these are “almost always done because of a foetal abnormality not compatible with life”, and they’re usually pregnancies that are wanted by the pregnant woman.
“While it does happen, rarely, during a late medical abortion that an intact foetus is delivered alive, it will usually be in a situation where survival is not possible,” Emanuel made clear, adding that patients are consulted as to the risks, and attempting to save a baby in such instances is futile.
The guts of the bill
As its explanatory memorandum sets out, the private members bill seeks to establish a new offence for health practitioners that fail to attempt to keep breathing babies alive, whilst enshrining a duty for doctors to administer care in these circumstances.
Section 9 of the Children Born Alive Protection Bill stipulates that “the duty owed by a health practitioner to provide medical care or treatment to a child born alive as a result of a termination is no different than the duty owed to… a child born alive other than as a result of a termination.”
While if passed, section 10 of the legislation would create the offence of contravening the duty to provide medical care or treatment to children born alive set out in section 9. And this crime would see a health practitioner found guilty liable to a fine of up to $550,000.
Revoked in the US
“I’m sure the overturning of Roe versus Wade in the US has given added confidence to anti-abortion conservatives in Australia,” Dr Emanuel told Sydney Criminal Lawyers, in response to a question regarding developments in the States. “It may be behind the impetus to introduce this bill now.”
The conservatively stacked US Supreme Court last June, overturned the 1973 Roe versus Wade ruling, which had effectively established a right to abortion at the federal level in the United States.
And this decision was made in relation to a case regarding Mississippi state anti-abortion measures.
The ruling also came in the wake of the passing of the Texas Heartbeat law in September 2021, which provides that doctors who perform an abortion after a foetus’ heartbeat is detected can be sued by a member of the public for damages with a minimum fine of $10,000 applying.
According to Emanuel, another likely reason for the ultraconservatives in the Coalition producing this bill at present, is that the last few years have seen a positive “extension and protection of abortion rights and access” at the state and territory level in this country.
“Since progressive state/territory abortion law reform got underway in the 1960s, more restrictive abortion laws have sometimes been passed, but tend to have been overturned fairly quickly,” the Socialist Alliance member added.
“The general thrust of legislative changes has been the removal of restrictions.”
Drumming up votes
As to why far right politicians continue to launch attacks on reproductive rights, the doctor advises that it’s an ideal way to garner the votes of conservatives in the community, as many are swayed by anti-abortion arguments.
“For those who would otherwise be troubled by other right-wing policies, the drumbeat about abortion, even when there’s no hope of anti-abortion legislation passing, makes them look like they’re doing something,” Dr Emanuel said in conclusion.
“And the propaganda shock tactic might draw more adherents and make those with reservations about abortion rights question how much those rights should entail.”