Victorian Labor government votes against bill to widen access to abortion

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

The Victorian Labor government has voted against a bill that aimed to expand access to abortion services in publicly funded hospitals across the state.

Crossbench MP Fiona Patten brought on debate in the upper house for the bill that sought to prevent publicly funded hospitals, including those with religious affiliations, from refusing to perform abortions.

Patten’s bill, introduced after the overturning of the Roe v Wade decision in the US that led to abortions being banned in multiple states, also aimed to stop hospitals that receive public funding from refusing to perform assisted dying procedures for terminally ill patients.

The Victorian government and the opposition used their numbers in the parliament’s upper house to vote against the bill on Wednesday.

Related: Crossbench MP prepares to wedge Victorian government on abortion access bill

Patten – the leader of the Reason party – said the outcome was a loss for women and gender diverse Victorians.

“Right now, woman and gender diverse people in Australia need to know that the government has their back in regards to reproductive rights and in regards to assisted dying,” she said.

“And the opposition and the government did not give them that assurance today. It was a a win for religious ideology.”

Patten said she was concerned that Victoria’s parliament could look “very different” after the November election, after the Liberal party’s recent pre-selection of conservative upper house candidates.

“We may well see these rights under attack,” she said.

The Victorian government has a practice not to support any private members’ bills.

The government’s parliamentary secretary for health, Nina Taylor, said Labor had a positive record on abortion access, pointing to safe access zones around clinics and a $19.4m commitment in the May budget to strengthen female health services.

“Victoria is Australia’s most progressive state when it comes to women’s rights and access to reproductive choices,” Taylor told parliament.

Taylor said the government would continue to take steps to improve women’s and gender diverse people’s access to health care.

The opposition’s health spokesperson, Georgie Crozier, said Victoria did not have to enter an international debate on abortion.

“To say that women’s rights are being denied is not right,” Crozier said.

“I don’t think Miss Patten has done the homework on this bill. She’s just rushed it in, she’s used some international hoo-ha in the US to bring that ideological error and whip up hysteria on an issue that just doesn’t exist in this state. It is ridiculous and it’s wrong.”

Crozier also said there was no precedent across the state where any health service had to be mandated to provide certain services.

Joining Patten in voting in support of the bill were Animal Justice MP Andy Meddick, the Victorian Greens leader, Samantha Ratnam, Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes, Transport Matters MP Rod Barton, Justice Party MPs Stuart Grimley and Tania Maxwell.

Guardian Australia reported on Tuesday that Patten had been unable to secure a commitment from the government that they would look at the issue before Victorians head to the polls in November, at a time it’s understood that at least one patient a week is being turned away when seeking a termination at a denominational hospital in the state.

The majority of abortions in Victoria are performed in dedicated private clinics and private hospitals, which can present a barrier to access for some.

Related: Having an abortion made me realise Australia must do more to make it accessible and affordable | Georgie Purcell

Under Patten’s bill, all Victorian hospitals that receive public funding – including those with religious affiliations – would be legally required to provide advice and services for abortion and contraceptive treatment. But the bill would not change the right of individual doctors to refuse to perform abortions on religious grounds.

Under the current laws, pregnant women can access abortions up to 24 weeks in Victoria. Beyond 24 weeks, a medical practitioner can provide an abortion if another medical practitioner agrees that it is appropriate.

A doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion is required to refer any pregnant woman inquiring about termination information or services to another doctor who does not object.

Earlier this year the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said abortions were a matter between a woman and her doctor.