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ALHR: Government must do more to protect reproductive health rights

The leading advocacy group for human rights law in Australia has called on the federal government to better ensure the country is meeting its international obligations to protect women and girls when it comes to processes such as abortion. 

user iconJerome Doraisamy 22 March 2018 Politics
Scales of Justice
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Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) spoke earlier this week in response to comments from Nationals MP George Christensen and incoming Senator Amanda Stoker, who – at an anti-abortion rally held in Queensland this past Sunday – said they would lobby Treasurer Scott Morrison to cease funding of family planning services that include abortion, both in Australia and internationally.

At present, the federal government provides $9.5 million in funding for an initiative called the Sexual and Reproductive Health Program in Crisis and Post-Crisis Settings (SPRINT), in partnership with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

The initiative operates in the Indo-Pacific region delivering services including safer birthing environments, assistance to survivors of rape and violence, and HIV prevention and treatment.


Mr Christensen reportedly described this funding as a “disgraceful act”.

And while ALHR have welcomed comments from Defence Minister Marise Payne, on behalf of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, reaffirming Australia’s commitment to the partnership, the organisation says more is needed.

ALHR Women and Girls’ Rights Committee co-chair, Associate Professor Rita Shackel, said the organisation was concerned that members of the federal government appeared to be supporting the denial of access to abortion services, as well as the continued criminalisation of such services.

“Such a position is inconsistent with Austalia’s human rights obligations. Reproductive rights are recognised by international law as belonging to all women and girls everywhere and include the right to access safe and legal abortions,” she said.

“Numerous United Nations human rights bodies have provided states with clear guidance on reproductive rights. They have emphasised that ensuring access to safe and legal abortion services is part of a country’s obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and ensure their right to health as well as other fundamental rights.”

Anna Kerr, ALHR Women and Girls’ Rights Committee co-chair, agreed with Associate Professor Shackel’s comments, adding that the government should be “unambiguously supporting” women and girls’ right to autonomy over their own bodies and health.

“Those who seek abortions should not be treated as criminals and nor should organisations devoted to protecting women and girls, especially victims of violence, be targeted for their pro-choice policy positions,” she argued.

Ms Kerr went on to say that one in three Australian women have abortions in the course of their lifetimes, and the criminalisation of such acts across states and territories needs to change.

“The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that 81 per cent of Australians believe a woman should have the right to choose to have an abortion, with 77 per cent of those who identify as religious also supporting a women’s right to choose,” she said.

ALHR continues to call for the decriminalisation of abortion in all Australian jurisdictions – a measure that is clearly supported by the majority of the community.”