Liberal Senator re-ignites abortion debate

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Controversial Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has re-ignited the firey abortion debate after labelling abortion supporters as “pro-death”.

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Senator Bernardi has also accused some women of using abortion as what he described as an abhorrent form of birth control.

Thea Cowie reports.

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In June last year, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard predicted the issue of abortion would again become politicised if the Coalition won government.

“We don’t want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political play thing of men who think they know better (applause).”

South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has now revived the issue in a book called “The Conservative Revolution”.

Senator Bernardi writes that the number of abortions performed each year by what he calls the “death industry” is “horrendous and unacceptable”.

Medicare data shows 60,000 rebates were processed for abortion procedures in Australia last financial year.

Senator Bernardi claims the real figure is up to 100,000 abortions a year.

Speaking on the ABC, he has defended his comments.

“The question is for everyone in this debate is where does life begin. For me it’s at conception, for other people it is 24 week of gestation, others people say it’s not until the child is born and a sentient being, some weeks after birth. There’s a whole range of discussion and debate in this. I haven’t said we should outlaw or prohibit abortion. I have said there is a right to life issue we should be exploring.”

Senator Bernardi says politicians need to be prepared to discuss controversial issues, rather than be stifled by what he calls a tyranny of political correctness.

But Reproductive Choice Australia spokeswoman Cait Calcutt says the comments are insensitive.

“It can be a difficult time in women’s lives and the lives of their partner and it could often involve a relationship breakdown for many women – almost one in five. There [can be] violence involved in the unplanned pregnancy. Women are in really difficult and vulnerable situations and those who are offering care to enable them to access abortion services should not be condemned, they should be supported.”

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale says the comments are unwelcome.

“No matter how distasteful someone’s views might be they have a legitimate right to express them. But those views have no place in the modern political party and they have no place in Australia of today.”

Opposition front-bencher Anthony Albanese is calling on the government to distance itself from the comments if it doesn’t agree with them.

“This is someone who has been a close confidante of the now-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, was indeed the parlaimentary secretary and one of the key advisors to Tony Abbott up until late last year. So it’s up to members of the government from Tony Abbott down to disassociate themselves from these comments of Cory Bernardi. If they don’t do that then one can take the view that Cory Bernardi has been put out there to push this divisive agenda.”

Senator Bernardi resigned as Tony Abbott’s parliamentary secretary last year after linking gay marriage to bestiality.

Mr Abbott’s office has released a statement saying Senator Bernardi is a backbencher and his views don’t represent the position of the government.

In 2004, as then Health Minister, Mr Abbott described abortion as an “easy way out” for pregnant women, adding that society’s attitude towards teenage sexual promiscuity was “too lax”.

Two years later, in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the Therapeutic Drugs Administration controlling the importation of abortion drug RU-486, Mr Abbott told parliament abortion rates were a national tragedy.

“We have a bizarre double standard, a bizarre double standard in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman’s baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice. But every abortion is a tragedy and up to 100,000 abortions a year is this generation’s legacy of unutterable shame. Somehow, up to 100,000 abortions a year is accepted as a fact of life – almost by some as a badge of liberation from old oppressions.”

During the recent federal election campaign, Mr Abbott ruled out any changes to abortion laws.

In his book, Senator Cory Bernardi also calls for the traditional family model to be restored to “prime position” as opposed to other family arrangements like same-sex families, step families and surrogacy.

The Senator links criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls with single-parent families – particularly single-mother families.