The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has called out the Morrison government for failing to sign on to a United Nations International Women’s Day statement calling for better abortion access for women. The motion was proposed by Finland and Mexico and broadly called for greater accountability for human rights violations against women and girls. The statement proposed greater implementation of ‘policies and legislation that respect women and girls’ right to bodily autonomy’.
This included guaranteed universal protection of women’s sexual and reproductive health, comprehensive sexuality education and access to safe abortion. The HRLC says Australia was not one of the 57 countries who signed on. The centre’s Legal Director Edwina MacDonald was at the session in Geneva. She’s called the decision ‘extremely disappointing’. No government can truly support gender equality and human rights without supporting access to safe abortions and reproductive rights.
Australia was elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in 2017, amid criticism of its offshore processing system and treatment of Indigenous Australians.
Just last month, Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the UN that ‘gender equality’ was one of five guiding principles for Australia’s time on the council. When asked for comment, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said Australia consistently advances gender equality across a numbers of areas.
“This includes strongly defending sexual and reproductive health and rights language in the Human Rights Commission, the UN General Assembly, through the UN Commission for the Status of Women, and the UN Commission for Population and Development.”
The Human Rights Law Centre says this is another example of Australia failing to live up to it’s UN promises.
“The Morrison Government holds a really important role on the Human Rights Council, it should be using its voice at the UN to stand up for the rights of women all around the world,” says MacDonald.
Instead we get hollow words here in Geneva and a failure to lift its game back home. Australian abortion laws vary state by state (and with varied conditions) – it’s still technically illegal in New South Wales. As a way to force the hands of state government, federal Labor last week announced that it’ll make providing free abortions at public hospitals a condition of federal funding, if it wins government.
Labor made it easier for women to access medical abortions. So why are less than 5% of GPs providing them? When asked to comment on the policy, Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticized the opposition for ‘politicizing the issue’. “I don’t find that debate one that tends to unite Australians and I certainly am not going to engage in the political elements of that discussion, because I frankly, I don’t think it is good for our country.”