Global Gag Rule - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

President Trump's Global Gag Rule will harm women in developing countries

Complications arising from pregnancy, childbirth and terminations of pregnancy result in around 830 maternal deaths per day in developing countries. President Trump's Global Gag Rule will make things worse.

Read my speech below.

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (16:56): This is a very important motion, and I thank the Member for Fenner for drafting and proposing this motion that we are debating here today, because it is about the question of access to reproductive health services and abortion for women in developing countries. Pregnancy, childbirth and termination of pregnancy complications are one of the leading causes of death for women in developing countries.

In fact, complications arising from pregnancy, childbirth and terminations of pregnancy result in around 830 maternal deaths per day in developing countries. As a nation that is well-off and in a position to influence what happens globally in relation to access to reproductive health services, we should take a very strong interest in an area that is killing 830 women every day.

Accordingly, I think that it is both within our rights to be concerned about the global gag rule, and it is also incumbent upon us to be concerned about the global gag rule. In January this year President Trump reinstated the global gag rule but expanded its scope. Instead of just applying to reproductive health organisations, it applies to all health organisations and all American overseas aid so that any organisation that has any arm undertaking assistance with abortions, with terminations of pregnancy, is affected. That is greatly concerning because what it means is that, no matter what an organisation is doing in a particular country, if any part of their international operation is providing terminations, is providing counselling in relation to terminations, is referring women for terminations or is advocating for abortion services, then they are affected by this global gag rule.

Marie Stopes International has estimated that this is going to have a significant effect on the ability of women worldwide to get access to the services they need. Without US funding, the loss of services during President Trump's first term—between 2017 and 2020—will mean there will be 6½ million more unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and 21,700 maternal deaths. As the Member for Fenner pointed out, taking away access to reproductive health services has, in at least one example, led to more terminations of pregnancy not fewer, and of course that makes sense intuitively. If you cannot get access to contraception, counselling, education and the services provided, then that is likely to contribute to there being more unplanned pregnancies not fewer. Restricting access to safe, legal termination does not reduce abortions. It just means that women have unsafe abortions instead of safe abortions. It is something that people who are concerned about abortion would do well to consider when they support the global gag rule, because, if in fact the effect of the rule is to give rise to more unplanned pregnancies and more unsafe abortions, that would be a very poor outcome of the reinstatement of this rule.

It is disappointing to me that we have to have this debate and that a US President in 2017, surrounded by an allmale cohort, decided to reinstate a global gag rule purportedly aimed at trying to reduce abortion, although, of course, as I have just said, it does not have that effect today, when we should be really focused on what is best for reproductive health and what is best for women and their children in developing countries.

I come from Queensland. Queensland, of course, needs to acknowledge its own poor track record when it comes to pregnancy termination legalisation. This year there was some proposed legislation to decriminalise abortion in Queensland. It was unable to be successfully put before the parliament. It is very disappointing to me that my own state still makes abortion a crime. It has effects for women and doctors and allied health services providers.

At the same time, I should acknowledge the progress made by Natasha Fyles and her colleagues in the Northern Territory parliament who very recently were able to successfully fulfil an election promise to make abortion legal in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Criminal Code and the Queensland Criminal Code are effectively the same criminal code, so it would be very useful if the Queensland parliament would follow the Northern Territory's lead and make abortion legal in Queensland.

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