8 December 2023

‘Danger’ in misrepresenting Roe v. Wade outcome implications

Lawyer George Newhouse says in Australia, women’s rights are a state-by-state rather than constitutional matter. Image: Supplied.

Kirralee Nicolle

30 June 2022

Abortion laws in Australia are unlikely to change in the wake of the US Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, according to legal experts and activists.

Experts say that the decision to overturn constitutional abortion legislation in the US will have little effect on the handling of the topic in Australia.

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated to US talk show host Gayle King that she believes “women will die” due to the resulting restrictions on abortion.

On the other side of the debate, American conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey tweeted on 25 June that Roe v. Wade had been “a scourge on our nation for 50 years”.

Medical ethicist Dr Denise Cooper-Clarke said the decision would have little effect on Australian approaches to abortion.

“There is a danger in misunderstanding and misrepresenting the situation,” Dr Clarke said.

“In Australia, it’s very unlikely that the laws will change, but there may be a lot more noise about it.”

She said that rather than being necessarily providing a judgment call on the moral and ethical nature of abortion, the decision handed the matter to individual states to decide.

Dr Clarke did say, however, that there was likely to be more activism and lobbying about the matter in Australia because of the decision.

Australian human rights lawyer and National Justice Project principal solicitor George Newhouse concurred with Dr Clarke that the decision would have “virtually no impact” on the Australian legal context.

He said that since Australian abortion laws were already decided by individual states, they weren’t enshrined in the constitution as was the case in the US until last week.

Mr Newhouse said the absence of human rights in the Australian constitution should be a matter of great concern to all citizens.

“Issues of women’s rights are generally dictated by our parliaments. They can be taken away at the will of the parliament,” he said.

Australian Christian Lobby political national director Wendy Francis said that the decision wouldn’t really change the nature of the political conversation around abortion in Australia, but that it provided encouragement to pro-life advocates that their message was being heard.

She said that the decision pointed to a change in how the matter was to be handled in the US rather than a significant change in public opinion.

“In one way, the States copied Australia for once. They have put abortion back in the hands of Americans,” she said.

“It’s a much more democratic way of approaching any of these controversial issues.”

Ms Francis added that the ACL was hoping to see more traction on the issue of abortion, particularly regarding the Children Born Alive Protection Bill which lapsed in April and the removal of Medicare funding for sex-selection abortions.

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