The drug is illegal to procure in the Northern Territory and only available in special cases.
NT Speaker of the House Kezia Purick first introduced the medical services amendment private member’s bill to Parliament in December 2015, when she described access as “not a social justice matter; it is about basic rights for Territory women”.
As debate began again in the Parliament on Wednesday night, members from the Country Liberals Government, Labor Opposition and independents spoke for and against the drug being made available.
Independent Gerry Wood described the belief human life begins at birth as a “fashion” and a “fallacy”.
“Some people might say I am just fighting against the tide, this is women’s business, go away. But just because something is the fashion, doesn’t mean it is correct,” he said.
“According to this fashion in Western society … that reckons the unborn is simply an indeterminate bunch of cells that is only a human being when it leaves its mother’s womb … that is the fallacy of the day.”
Mr Wood said he believed a “woman’s right to have an abortion … should be questioned sometimes when other rights are overridden”.
“Our humanity starts at conception … embryo, foetus, baby, child, teenager, adolescent, adult, middle-age, senior and aged, we are always human,” he said.
“We, as a parliament, have a responsibly to protect our fellow humans especially at our weakest and most vulnerable.”
Mr Wood said the bill was “also an attempt to make moves to have abortion on demand” and praised medical staff who would refuse to perform a procedure.
“Thank God there are doctors today who believe in the Hippocratic oath,” he said.
“Our nation is slipping into a vacuum of values and beliefs where people who have views based on the belief in God, a god from whom all life comes, are ridiculed and mocked.
“Yet those who believe in the fashionable non-beliefs are held up in the new world [as those] we should all follow.”
Concern for remote Aboriginal women
Independent Indigenous MLA Larisa Lee, who has been a health worker in remote communities, said she did not think Aboriginal health workers were up to the job of administering the drug.
“I have come from that background, majority of them can’t even put a drip in … and you’re going to give them the right to do that, especially when someone is haemorrhaging … I’ve lived and worked in that field,” she said.
Ms Lee said she had spoken to women in her electorate of Arnhem, which is predominantly remote Aboriginal communities.
“They’re horrified by the fact that their kids have to take a pill and could go through three weeks in agony and could see this baby come out and hold it, whether it’s in the toilet,” she said.
“Who is going to do counselling out there in remote communities if this bill is passed?
“My biggest concern is for the Aboriginal people in the most remote of communities accessing this drug and having nothing in place for them when they’re actually going through this.”
Ms Lee said she had thought about how access to RU486 would affect her daughters.
“The last thing I want to see is my daughter crippled up in bed and I have to wash the sheets and change the mattresses, and I live in a remote community,” she said.
“That’s the worst fear of any mother, any Aboriginal mother.”
RU486 bill a ‘pathway to a coroner’
Labor’s Gerry McCarthy said he had spoken to remote clinicians about the bill who had told him it had “deficits because it does not deal with the big, wide geographic areas of the NT”.
“It’s very much focused on a small, urban cohort who are intelligent and articulate, who want to access this medicine,” he said.
Mr McCarthy told the Parliament of the time when his partner had to deliver a stillborn child, while they were living in the remote community of Borroloola.
“We had no services … why am I sharing this story? Because we are people who have lived in the bush with no services and no support,” he said.
Mr McCarthy said the bill could be “legislation that provides a pathway to a coroner” and challenged its supporters to debate his wife.
Access would ‘allow Territory to catch up’
Labor’s Natasha Fyles said the bill would “allow the Territory to catch up with the rest of the world”.
“We trust Territory medical professionals and, more importantly, we trust Territory women with their bodies,” Ms Fyles said.
The CLP’s Lia Finocchiaro said Ms Purick had proposed “significant amendments” and called on more time for consideration of the changes.
“The bill is too important to get wrong.”
NT Health Minister John Elferink said Ms Purick’s amendments to the bill eliminated the second opinion doctor and allowed the drug to be given to a woman who is up to 23 weeks pregnant, both of which were not set out in the original bill.
“We cannot rush these things … we cannot circulate amendments to legislation a few hours before we debate it,” Mr Elferink said.
“I wanted to see this drug operate in the NT in a responsible fashion. These amendments do not countenance the responsibility that I would expect and, as a consequence, I cannot support the amendments to this bill.”
At 9:00pm the debate was adjourned. It is expected to be raised again in May.