Seven years after Victoria decriminalised abortion, there are fears publicly funded services have deteriorated across the state, causing women to travel long distances for private care that can cost hundreds of dollars. There are also concerns about a shortage of doctors willing to carry out the procedure.

Leading women’s health researcher Louise Keogh is urging the Victorian government to make abortion services mandatory at some hospitals, after interviews with 19 abortion workers revealed public services may have shrunk since law reform, and that there is an ageing workforce not being replaced.

Associate Professor Keogh, from Melbourne University, said most of the research participants, who included doctors, nurses and clinic managers, were concerned about reduced access to surgical abortion, and abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. They were also worried that some hospitals were opting out of the service altogether.

The state government’s Better Health website lists only three public hospital abortion services and they are all in Melbourne.

“There was a strong consensus that there was ‘unfinished business’ in the provision of abortion services,” Professor Keogh wrote with others in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

“Law reform, while positive, has failed to address a number of significant issues in abortion service, and may have even resulted in a ‘lull’ in action.”

The chief executive of the Royal Women’s Hospital, Sue Matthews, said her staff were not able to meet demand for abortions and that they were working with other regional services to increase their capacity.

“The level of demand for the Women’s services exceeds what we can deliver, and as such, we prioritise our services for women from disadvantaged and low socio-economic backgrounds,” she said.

“The Women’s supports the right for all women to access reproductive services and supports a state-wide approach to abortion service provision to allow women across the state to have access to timely services that are provided as close to home as reasonably possible.”

Writing in the journal, Professor Keogh said her research highlighted the need for law reform to be followed by “policy and practice changes that enforce the intent of the law and ensure the delivery of the services the community needs”.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the government was developing a statewide sexual and reproductive health strategy to improve Victorian women’s access to reproductive health services.

“This work is supported by a $6.6 million investment in this year’s budget. We also established Victoria’s first ever safe access zones to ensure women can safely and confidentially access abortion services without being subject to verbal and psychological abuse,” the spokesperson said.

In 2008, abortion was decriminalised, so that women could have one up to 24 weeks for any reason. After 24 weeks, two doctors need to agree based on the woman’s medical circumstances and her current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.

A health professional who has a conscientious objection to providing abortion is not required to provide it but must refer any woman seeking information about it to a health practitioner who does not object.


Source: The Courier AU


Website domain name for Women’s Life Centre in Albury registered to the Wagga Wagga Catholic diocese

The Catholic church has denied any link to a New South Wales pregnancy centre accused of deceptively pushing an anti-abortion agenda to women, despite records showing the local diocese set up its website.

The Women’s Life Centre has operated for several years in Albury, NSW, marketing itself as a service that helps “any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy or worried that they may be pregnant”.

The centre is currently crowdfunding to buy an ultrasound device and says it offers pregnancy testing, counselling, resources on pregnancy and abortion, future planning and abortion grief counselling.

The centre is staffed by pro-life volunteers and staff but its website makes no mention of its anti-abortion stance, nor does its shopfront, which advertises “free pregnancy help” and “free pregnancy testing”.

The website domain name for the clinic is registered to the Wagga Wagga Catholic diocese, which covers Albury.

It also receives funding support from a café next door, named Esencia, which is owned by the church, according to the Australian Business Register and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission database.

A spokesman for the Wagga Wagga diocese said he did not believe there was any link between the church and the pregnancy centre. He said there may have been “technical assistance” to help the centre set up its website but nothing further.

Staff at the centre say they are openly pro-life and that there is no deception involved.

A volunteer, Myra Hogan, told Guardian Australia that women who came to the centre for help would be immediately aware of its pro-life stance.

“From my point of view, yes 100%,” Hogan said. “I feel like we’re very upfront and honest … That’s why I approached them, because that’s my own personal belief. I’m very pro-life.”

But senior Albury obstetrician and gynaecologist Pieter Mourik has accused the centre of covertly pushing an anti-abortion agenda.

“This [women’s life centre] is a vile deception of vulnerable women who have an unplanned pregnancy,” he said. “No member of this clinic would ever agree with a woman who wants or medically needs a termination but will use any tactic to dissuade them every time.”

The US has seen thousands of “crisis pregnancy centres” set up across the country, which purport to offer free medical advice but actually attempt to discourage abortion and the use of contraceptives.

The US centres have been accused of lying to women, overstating the health impacts of abortions and using misleading films and images to frighten those seeking help.

In France, MPs last week voted to approve a plan to outlaw abortion information websites that masquerade as neutral, official services with freephone helpline numbers but promote anti-abortion propaganda and pressure women not to terminate pregnancies.


Source: The Guardian


Katherine Zappone has suggested she is in favour of replacing the Eighth Amendment with a “radical” plan to enshrine a woman’s right to choose in the constitution.

The minister for children and youth affairs said she was concerned that a foetus could still have constitutional rights that would block an abortion, even after a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

The government is seeking to appeal against a High Court ruling from July which suggested that the constitutional rights of unborn children extend beyond the right to life. The court suggested that a constitutional reference to the state’s duty to protect “all children” could also refer to a foetus. The ruling has led to suggestions that even if the Eighth Amendment was repealed, a foetus would still be entitled to some rights under the Irish constitution.

The judgment was made in the case of a Nigerian man who was facing deportation. The man and his partner, who was pregnant at the time, secured an injunction on his deportation after the court ruled that the couple’s unborn baby was also entitled to rights and a legal position.

Speaking at the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s Femfest event for young women on Friday, Ms Zapppone said: “We don’t want anything in our constitution that has to do with abortion. But we might want to put something in there that says something about women’s right to their health, to their autonomy and to their self-determination.

“Talk about radical. Because as you probably know, There are currently senior counsel and legal folks who are arguing on both sides of this that if we got rid of [the Eighth Amendment] there are still implicit constitutional rights that could block women’s access to abortion.”

She added that her instinct was to support taking all reference to terminating pregnancies out of the constitution and legalising access to abortion through legislation but that a new amendment should be considered.

Ms Zappone was forced to defend her position after she was heavily criticised by pro-choice campaigners for supporting Enda Kenny’s plans to consider abortion through a citizens’ assembly rather than the Oireachtas. Earlier this year the first-time independent TD voted with the government against a bill which would have legalised abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, which she had supported when she was an independent senator. She also voted against an Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit bill calling for a referendum in October.

Ms Zappone said that she did not believe that a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment would win if it was held ahead of the citizens’ assembly completing its work. The assembly, led by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, met on November 26 to begin examining whether the constitutional ban on abortion needs to be repealed and will also meet over three more weekends in January, February and March. At the end of the fourth weekend, assembly members will vote on what their recommendations to the Oireachtas will be.

If the assembly decides to recommend a referendum, it could recommend replacing the Eighth Amendment with another addition to the constitution, or granting legal access to abortion in specific circumstances through legislation alone.

Various opinion polls have suggested that most people support legal access to abortion on grounds of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Ms Zappone said that she did not want victims of sexual crime to have to go through an arduous process to access an abortion. “I would be in favour of legislation that doesn’t name rape and incest or circumstances or conditions. Because they’d have to prove it. We know what women now have to go through to demonstrate or prove that they were raped, we don’t need that in our legislation,” she said.

The Independent Alliance ministers have threatened government stability twice over the issue of abortion by demanding a free vote on two bills. In a thinly veiled reference to Shane Ross, John Halligan and Finian McGrath, Ms Zappone said she had been the only one to raise the issue of the Eighth Amendment during government formation talks. “Many of my colleagues who were around the table weren’t that keen, but they had to agree to it because I said I wouldn’t stay if they wouldn’t agree to at least that,” she said.


Source: The Times UK


EVEN DONALD TRUMP’S most ardent supporters would be at pains to describe his career swap as a seamless one.

After all, while this month’s victory saw him become the sixth US President to attain the role as their first public office, that number tells only half the story. Of those who preceded him on that score, three had esteemed military résumés, and the other two were long-time cabinet secretaries.

Trump’s fortune can’t buy that kind of experience

And yet, rather than a hill to die on, it was upon that very inexperience that the 70-year-old built his church. Unsullied by the careerism of party politics, his followers have lauded his aptitude to speak freely without fear of reproach.

Unfiltered frankness is undoubtedly an admirable character trait, but the fact that it could just as easily be boasted by a puckish toddler is hardly a ringing endorsement of one’s presidential credentials.

Then again, it would be remiss to suggest that Trump’s was the first campaign to target heart over head.

Cults of personality 

One need look no further than the tidal wave which swept Barack Obama into office for confirmation of that. But whereas Obama’s candidacy may have appeared at least superficially populist, it was built on unwavering ideals.

Like Kennedy and Reagan before him, he used charisma to cause change. Publicity was a means to an end.

For Donald Trump, publicity is the end

His success has centered on one emptily bombastic soundbite after another, his bumper-sticker policies catering tragically well to the Snapchat attention span of modern media.

Trump’s very lack of conservatism belied his status as this year’s Republican candidate, with even his own party balking at his liberal positions on matters such as gun control. And yet, if concerns about the President-elect can best be boiled down to fear of the unknown, those swirling around his closest ally amount to quite the opposite.

Mike Pence is the GOP’s answer to Ronseal, after all, his steadfastness a tangible yin to Trump’s yang. If nothing else, that courage of conviction promises to keep Trump’s increasingly erratic train on the track, but at what cost?

Pence is none the richer

Vice President-elect Mike P

On the face of it, Pence’s primitive views concerning climate change and same-sex marriage appear to tally more readily with the Westboro Baptist Church than much of the US electorate. Given the current climate on this side of the Atlantic, however, it’s his regressive stance on abortion which will likely have caught the Irish eye.

Pence has been among the brashest opponents to America’s regulation of the issue, after all, dubbing the Roe vs Wade ruling “the Supreme Court’s worst since Dred Scott.” During his time as Governor of Indiana, he endeavoured to redress that perceived imbalance, invoking some of America’s most restrictive counter-legislation.

Just 7% of Indiana counties have been left with direct access to an abortion clinic following his tenure in the Midwest, compared to a rate of 95% in states such as California.

‘I’m pro-life’

Logistics surrounding the medical procedure itself were also stymied under his watch. Pence became the first governor to place a blanket-ban on abortions which cited a foetus’ race, sex or disability.

“I’m pro-life and don’t apologise for it,” affirmed the would-be VP on the campaign trail. “I signed that legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families. In time, we’ll see Roe v Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”

That Pence’s pro-life politicking is rooted in his Christianity is hardly a foreign concept to those with an Irish sensibility. A simple Google search of my own namesake should serve as proof enough of that that.

Yesterday’s men decide women’s futures

Disconcerting though it may be, the narrative of 2016 remains heavily shaped by tenets from a bygone age and the rights of tomorrow’s women continue to be abridged by the whims of yesterday’s men.

Even in a society where a White House without a Y chromosome remains elusive, calls for women to be the protagonists in the discourse surrounding their own human rights hardly seem unreasonable.

America’s decision to plump for a Pence-Trump ticket has gone some way to ensuring those calls fall on deaf ears for some time yet. It is incumbent on the rest of the world to shout a little louder.


Source: The Journal



Lawsuits in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina include one against 20-week ban on abortions, a challenge that could have national repercussions

Reproductive rights advocates announced a significant slate of challenges to anti-abortion laws on Wednesday, taking aim at major restrictions in three states which advocates say are unconstitutional.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group which argued a landmark abortion case earlier this year, filed three lawsuits in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina. In Missouri, the groups will challenge a pair of abortion restrictions that have reduced the number of abortion providers to just one. They are taking aim at a similar clinic restriction in Alaska. In North Carolina, they will mount a challenge to a 20-week ban on abortion that has some of the nation’s strictest exceptions.

The two Missouri restrictions are highly similar to laws in Texas that the US supreme court struck down in June. They require abortions to be performed in expensive, hospital-like facilities and require abortion providers to have certain professional relationships with a local hospital.

The supreme court ruled that such restrictions served no medical purpose and were unconstitutional. But similar restrictions remain on the books in several states. In Missouri, where 1.2 million women of reproductive age live, the laws have forced two Planned Parenthood clinics, in Columbia and Kansas City, to stop providing abortions in recent years. The only remaining clinic is located in St Louis, forcing many Missouri women seeking an abortion to travel long distances.

“Because of laws like the ones we are challenging today, for too many women across our country the constitutional right to have an abortion is more theoretical than real,” said Jennifer Dalven, the director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

But it is the North Carolina challenge that may have the bigger impact on abortion rights nationwide. This is only the second time reproductive rights advocates have challenged a 20-week ban on abortion in federal court – potentially setting the table for these restrictions to go before the supreme court.

North Carolina’s law bans abortions after 20 weeks except in a medical emergency where a woman’s condition is so grave that she requires an abortion immediately. That is stricter than other 20-week bans, which have health exceptions but don’t require there to be a medical emergency.

The bill defines medical emergency as a condition which “so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” not including mental health.

In their lawsuit, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights argue that the language essentially forces women having an abortion for health reasons to wait until she becomes gravely ill.

Laws banning abortion several weeks before a fetus is viable outside the womb are increasingly common. Across the country, more than a dozen states ban abortion two weeks before viability on the medically dubious grounds that the fetus can feel pain.

But despite the fact that Roe v Wade prohibits states from banning abortion before the point of viability, most of those laws have not faced a legal challenge. Only Arizona’s 20-week ban, passed in 2012 and struck down permanently over the next two years, was ever the subject of a legal battle in federal court.


The challenge is especially significant now that Donald Trump has been elected president. Trump, in a wholesale embrace of the anti-abortion movement’s top priorities, has promised to sign into law a nationwide ban on abortion at 20 weeks.

One reason is that very few abortion providers have standing for such a challenge. “To challenge these laws, you would have to be actually doing abortions after 20 weeks,” said Priscilla Smith, an abortion rights advocate and a senior fellow at Yale law school. “And there are just so few states where you can obtain abortions at that stage of pregnancy. Despite the anti-abortion world’s focus on post-20-week abortions, they’re very rare.”

But another reason may be that reproductive rights advocates have been hesitant to launch a lawsuit that could reach the supreme court. In the past several decades, many such legal challenges have resulted in the supreme court chipping away at abortion rights.

That changed this summer, when the court ruled 5-to-3 to strike down a set of harsh Texas abortion restrictions. The ruling prohibited states from enacting abortion restrictions based on medically questionable arguments about protecting women’s health. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often skeptical of abortion rights, joined the majority.

With Trump potentially empowered to shift the balance of the court rightward, Smith said, reproductive rights advocates are probably facing the friendliest bench possible under the new president.

Courts have struck down early bans on abortion before, including an Arkansas law banning abortion at 12 weeks and a North Dakota law banning abortion at six weeks – before many women realize they are pregnant. In defense of 20-week bans, abortion foes commonly argue that fetuses at that stage of development will feel pain during the procedure. But the evidence is slim. While select studies have found evidence for this, the most recent systematic review of studies on this topic concluded that the fetal nervous system is not developed enough to feel pain until the third trimester.

Still, bans on abortion at 20 weeks occupy fraught emotional territory. Public support for abortion restrictions grows with gestational age, and a substantial portion of Americans are ambivalent or opposed to abortion rights in the second trimester.

Anti-abortion activists place an emphasis on these cases, even though they account for only 1% to 2% of all abortions in the US. Abortion rights advocates argue that many women obtaining later abortions are doing so for health reasons or after discovering a severe or fatal fetal anomaly – although the evidence suggests these are not the majority of cases.

On Wednesday, representatives for Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights said the three lawsuits were the beginning of a spate of legal challenges the groups would mount jointly.

“We are going to fight back state by state and law by law until every person has the right to pursue the life they want,” said Dr Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Planned Parenthood’s chief medical officer.


Source: The Guardian



An Indiana lawmaker plans to introduce a bill that would outlaw and criminalize all forms of abortion in Indiana.

State Rep. Curt Nisly said Wednesday he will file so-called “Protection at Conception” legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Under his proposal, all abortions would be a crime and prosecutors could file charges against those who participate in the procedure.

“You would treat the death of an unborn child like you would any other human being,” the Goshen Republican said.

The measure would almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions have effectively established a woman’s right to an abortion before viability of the fetus.

“My position is that the Supreme Court is wrong with Roe v. Wade,” Nisly said, “and they don’t have jurisdiction in this manner. This is the state of Indiana asserting the powers that are given to them, specifically in the 9th and 10th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”

In situations in which a high-risk pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, he said the proposal would demand that a doctor try to save both mother and child.

“The idea here is always, always try to save the baby,” Nisly said.

Conservative activists emboldened by President-elect Donald Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana are already rallying behind the measure. While they acknowledge the proposal would face legal challenges, they’re holding onto hope that the composition of the bench could change before the case reaches the Supreme Court.

“You don’t know who is going to be there in five years,” said Amy Schlichter, executive director of Hoosiers for Life. “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”

Trump has promised to appoint anti-abortion judges to the high court, and while his own positions on abortion have often shifted, his running mate — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — has assured abortion opponents that they can trust Trump. The staunchly conservative Pence said frequently during the campaign that he and Trump would send Roe v. Wade “to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”

Whether there is an appetite for legislation at the Statehouse remains to be seen.

Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate Leader David Long, declined to comment or did not immediately return messages from IndyStar. Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb, who has said he would support anti-abortion legislation if it landed on his desk, also declined to comment.

Ken Falk, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, called the proposal “obviously unconstitutional.”

“I do not think a legislature sworn to uphold the laws of the United States should be introducing laws that are so obviously unconstitutional,” Falk said.

He dismissed the idea that Trump’s Supreme Court picks may eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. While abortion is a polarizing issue, “I’d be surprised if any court would go in and tear down anything that has so clearly and for so long been the law of the land,” he said.

Indiana has been at the center of the abortion debate since Pence signed a measure into law in March that made Indiana’s abortion regulations some of the strictest in the nation. The new law restricts abortions based solely on fetal disability or gender and requires burial or cremation of fetal remains from an abortion or miscarriage.

A federal judge has since suspended the law from going into effect, saying it would likely be found unconstitutional.

The proposal from Nisly is so far-reaching by comparison that it has caused a rift within the anti-abortion movement.

Schlichter’s newly formed group, Hoosiers for Life, is leading the charge for the legislation. Schlichter was the force behind the unsuccessful push last session to ban abortions if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.

Others lining up behind the bill include Christian speaker Peter Heck and tea party activist Monica Boyer.

“It’s time that Indiana understands that our legislators are not doing all they can to stop abortions in our state,” Schlichter said. “I think it’s time for bold leadership — period.”

But some anti-abortion advocates say the new, hard-charging Hoosiers for Life group is causing a rift in the movement, said Micah Clark, executive director of the socially conservative American Family Association of Indiana.

For example, Indiana’s largest anti-abortion group, Indiana Right to Life, has traditionally advocated a more incremental approach and has yet to support Nisly’s proposal. Mike Fichter, the group’s president and CEO, did not return a phone call from IndyStar.

“They do not think that now is the time for such a move, and that such an effort could set back the life movement,” Clark said. “Hoosiers for Life disagrees and thinks it is time to do everything possible legislatively to protect innocent life regardless of what the courts may or may not do.  Perhaps, it is time to assert state sovereignty and push the question back to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade.”

Schlichter said any rift is merely the result of different approaches.

“Whenever you are trying to do anything good, there are always different ways to fight the battle,” she said. “There are different strategies, and that’s OK.”


Source: IndyStar



THERE are two ways to think about the future of the Supreme Court in the wake of last night’s stunning upset in the presidential race: taking Donald Trump at his word when he says he will load the bench with conservatives, or, in view of his penchant for changing his mind, taking these promises with a shaker full of salt. Neither offers much solace to liberals.

Mr Trump has pledged to appoint highly conservative justices who will uphold gun rights, walk back the 18-month-old decision allowing gays and lesbians to wed and “automatically” overturn Roe v Wade, the 1971 ruling recognising a right to abortion choice. On the campaign trail, Mr Trump provided more information about his intentions with regard to the nation’s highest court than any presidential candidate has ever divulged: not one list of potential nominees but two, totalling 21 souls he says merit a shot in one of the Supreme Court’s nine seats.

That is 21 more names than previous applicants for the White House—including Hillary Clinton—have made public. Mr Trump released his first list of 11 names in May to shore up support for his budding nomination and to reassure conservatives that he could take just as hard a line on replacing Antonin Scalia, the arch-conservative justice who died in February, as his nearest rival, Ted Cruz. Publicising the roster, which was curated with the help of the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, two solidly conservative think tanks, was a highly unorthodox move, and it’s likely Mr Trump knew very little about any of the potential nominees. But the stunt had its intended effect: the conservative base coalesced around Mr Trump and the real-estate magnate took the mantle of the Republican party.

The original Trump Eleven were all white judges, six sitting on federal circuit courts and five on state supreme courts. In line with what would become a promise to “drain the swamp” in the final weeks of his campaign, none hailed from inside the Washington beltway. That is a remarkable slight to the DC Court of Appeals, an institution where many presidents have fished for nominees. Of the eight justices currently on the Supreme Court, three once served on the DC court: the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg and conservatives Clarence Thomas and John Roberts, the chief. Barack Obama’s pick to replace Mr Scalia, Merrick Garland, is the DC circuit court’s chief judge.

Late in September, Mr Trump added ten more potential picks to his Supreme Court wish list. This list was more diverse. It included more women and three people of colour, including Amul Thapar, a Detroit-born judge of South Asian descent; Federico Moreno, a Florida judge who hails from Venezuela; and Robert Young, the black chief of Michigan’s supreme court. It also featured Mike Lee, a senator from Utah who refused to endorse Mr Trump and who called on him to quit the race following revelations about his treatment of women in October. Mr Lee has said he is happy serving in the Senate and is not interested in taking a seat on the Supreme Court.

Nobody knows who Mr Trump will actually tap for Mr Scalia’s empty seat. Mr Trump himself might have little clue. In the course of his business career, the president-elect has shown a remarkable ability to dodge and parry and reverse himself on everything from the war in Iraq to immigration policy to Mr Obama’s birthplace. Notably, Mr Trump never said he would choose one of the 21 people on his lists: he said the names should be viewed as “a guide” he would consult when sitting down to make his selection. They are “representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value”, he said. Time will tell whether those principles make their way into an actual Trump nominee.

But with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, there is only one barrier to Mr Trump seating a justice of his choice: the Senate filibuster, a maneouver that permits the minority party to prolong debate and block votes as long as the majority is weaker than 60 votes. Senate leaders told The Economist over the summer that this last line of defence will be erased no matter which party takes the chamber in the November election. With their successful nine-month stonewall of Mr Garland now looking like a brilliant move to preserve a half-century-long conservative tilt on the Supreme Court, Republicans will have no reason to bow to a Senate rule that hamstrings their new president. Expect the filibuster to dissolve and Mr Trump to have his way with the empty chair—one way or another.

Meanwhile, last night’s vote may have changed retirement plans for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83 and Stephen Breyer, 78, the elder liberals on a court that is destined to swing to the right. If they hang up their robes over the next four years, the Supreme Court may be unrecognisable a generation down the road.


Source: The Economist