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MP friction over abortion bill debate

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Debate on reforms to South Australia’s abortion law will resume today with a final vote possible by afternoon, after a mammoth parliamentary sitting overnight failed to resolve the matter despite concession amendments being added to the proposal.

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The Termination of Pregnancy Bill would remove abortion from the criminal code and allow late term abortions – defined as after 22 weeks and six days gestation – to occur if two medical practitioners deem the procedure to be “medically appropriate”.

Attorney General Vickie Chapman tabled the new laws to the House of Assembly on Tuesday, after the Legislative Council passed the proposal in December last year.

The lower house sat at 3:45pm on Wednesday with a conscience vote expected to take place later in the evening, but the matter got bogged down as lawmakers worked their way through 16 proposed amendments to the bill.

Debate was not adjourned until midnight.

The house eventually passed amendments that were proposed by Chapman in response to concerns from MPs on both sides of parliament that the proposed restrictions on late-term abortions are too lenient.

The amendments now mean a late-term abortion can only occur if two medical practitioners agree there is a threat to the life of the mother or another foetus, a chance of severe foetal anomalies, or “significant risk of injury to physical or mental health” of the mother if the pregnancy were to continue.

The latter provision resulted in more than four hours of debate, as Environment Minister David Speirs proposed an amendment to Chapman’s amendment with the intention of tightening the mental health framework in the bill.

The house voted against it 26-20.

SA Abortion Action Collation Co-Convenor Brigid Coombe said despite the attempts to water down the legislation, Chapman’s amendment is a positive step forward.

“We believe the amendment passed tonight will ensure that patients faced with the toughest of circumstances are afforded the time to access the best medical care,” Coombe said.

“This means patients can receive the sensitive and compassionate care that all South Australians expect.”

The long-winded parliamentary debate frustrated Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink, who first tabled the bill in the upper house.

“To all of my parliamentary colleagues involved in tonight’s debate on this groundbreaking bill: no-one is interested in your carefully curated arguments, or your capacity to audition for your local debating team,” Lensink tweeted.

Her tweet prompted a response from federal right faction Liberal MP Nicolle Flint.

“Compassion and respect is listening to and considering views you don’t necessarily agree with,” Flint replied

“I have dedicated my time in federal parliament to trying to SAVE the lives of unborn babies. How dare you be so patronising to those who wish to do the same.”

The House of Assembly is due to reconvene on the issue at 11:30am today.

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