Bell abstains from abortion vote

PRO-CHOICE: Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister David Basham and Member for MacKillop Nick McBride were the only country MPs who voted in support of decriminalising abortion and allowing the termination of pregnancies beyond 23 weeks in certain circumstances.

By Raquel Mustillo

MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell has defended abstaining from the final vote of the state’s historic and controversial abortion laws despite voting on a number of amendments during the marathon debate. 

Parliamentarians were granted a conscience vote on the bill – introduced to the Lower House by Attorney-General Vickie Chapman – which removes abortion from criminal law and allows termination beyond 23 weeks in certain circumstances.

The independent MP raised concerns with the lack of safeguards in the original Termination of Pregnancy Bill ahead of the debate, including preventing abortions being performed due to sex selection and the potential for discrimination against doctors who are conscientious objectors.

In a speech to parliament, Mr Bell he would not support the bill unless changes were made to satisfy his concerns.

Mr Bell backed amendments strengthening the provisions during last week’s lengthy debate, but said he was “conflicted” when a proposal to prohibit late-term abortions due to mental health reasons – which he does not support – failed to secure majority support. 

“I believe I have stayed true to what I said in my first reading speech because there was many aspects of the bill that I support,” he said.

“I support decriminalising it and I support the right to choose, but I couldn’t support was using mental health grounds as a reason to abort a baby that is viable outside the womb.

“I think you could have a late-term abortion was when there was a risk to the mother, foetus or severe abnormality that wasn’t picked up early. 

“Late-term abortions for rape and incest I agreed with and I voted that way, but being able to use just mental health for a late-term abortion was a step too far.” 

The long-time mental health advocate said while psychosocial factors was an important part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy up until 22 weeks and six days gestation, he did not believe it should apply beyond the six month mark. 

“After 23 weeks – in my mind – that is no longer a foetus, it is a baby,” Mr Bell said.

“I am an advocate and I will push as hard as I can for mental health and up to 23 weeks, mental health is a very serious and legitimate factor. 

“But after 23 weeks, that baby can survive outside the womb.”

While Mr Bell was notably absent from the final vote Member for MacKillop Nick McBride did support abortion reform.

Mr McBride – who was one of the only country MPs to back the bill – told parliament he was “very proactive and pro-choice” before acknowledging his views were well-known within the “very conservative” electorate.

The first-term MP supported an proposal to provide an annual report on terminations in South Australia, including information on the age of the pregnant person, the gestational age of the foetus at the time of termination and “other information” including data and statistics, with a review of the act in four years.

In speaking to the amendment, Mr McBride sought a commitment from Attorney-General Vickie Chapman to ensure all abortions are conducted legally and are “tolerable or palatable… to the general population”.

Mr McBride told The Border Watch he had considered the status of the current law and extensive evidence, research and advice from health professionals prior to the vote.

“I have considered positions strongly advocated to me in relation to right to life and a women’s right to make choices about her own body,” he said.

“In many discussions I have had on this matter I had expressed my concerns in relation to the allowance of later term terminations.

“In considering all of the information before me I ultimately chose to vote in support of the Bill. 

“I was satisfied that there are adequate safeguards in the Bill and professional medical standards in place to ensure that the decision making in relation to terminations is made based on medical evaluation of all circumstances.”

The bill will return to the Upper House to receive final approval before the laws change.