Australia Prime Minister Will Allow Conscience Vote on Abortion Drug

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 17, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Prime Minister Will Allow Conscience Vote on Abortion Drug Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 17, 2005

Canberra, Australia ( — Australia Prime Minister John Howard has agreed to allow a conscience vote in the Australian parliament on whether or not to lift a ban that prevents the sale of the dangerous abortion drug RU 486. The vote will likely pave the way for approving the drug despite a ruling by Health Minister Tony Abbott saying the current rules should stay in effect.

Howard said Thursday that conscience votes on the controversial issue of abortion are the right thing to do.

"Normally what we do in relation to these matters is to allow a free vote and my normal disposition and that of the Government is that the only fair, sensible and right thing to do is to allow a free vote," Howard said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

That sets up a vote on a measure put forward by pro-abrotion MPs that would take the decision-making process away from the government and put it in parliament’s hands. There, a majority will likely vote to approve the dangerous abortion pills.

The vote will be held later this month when Howard returns from an Asian trip and Parliament goes back into session.

Abbott ruled out approving RU 486 after the regulatory agency for drugs advised him that it would be risky for women in rural areas who lack access to follow-up care in emergency medical situations when the drugs cause a botched abortion. The chief of the agency said as many as 8 percent of all women using the drug would need urgent medical care.

Abbott also cited deaths in the United States, Canada and elsewhere as a reason not to approve the drug.

Despite allowing the vote, Howard said he would still take safety issues into account.

"There is an issue in relation to the safety of this particular drug — that is something we do have to take into account, but I am going to take it into account in a balanced way," he said. But he added he didn’t see any greater risks from using the abortion pill than from surgical abortions.

Abbott says a conscience vote shouldn’t take place because no company has yet come forward asking to sell the abortion drug there but abortion advocates say that’s because of the current restrictions.

The Australian Democrats leader, Lyn Allison, who initiated the campaign for a conscience vote says she’ll bring it up on November 27 or shortly thereafter. She told the Morning Herald she was "pretty confident" it would pass.