By Professor Joanna Howe
It is highly concerning when a federal Senate inquiry buries the submissions and voices of Australians that it disagrees with. Yet, this is what has happened with the Senate Inquiry into Universal Access to Reproductive Healthcare, an inquiry with a primary goal of further entrenching on demand abortion, at any stage and for any reason, throughout Australia.
This inquiry was announced on 28 September 2022 and submissions closed on 15 December of that year. Six weeks later the first submissions began appearing on the committee website. Another month passed and by early March there were 184 submissions that had been published. The overwhelming majority of these were from an aggressively pro-abortion perspective or from an organisation with a prochoice position.
Noting the striking absence of submissions from individuals and organisations that are prolife and don't see abortion as a positive solution for women and their children, I started to become concerned that something was amiss. I wrote to the committee to ask where my submission was. Six days later my submission and that of 8 prolife organisations were mysteriously published.
But this still begs the question: where are the rest of the prolife submissions made by individual Australians and other organisations like Women’s Forum Australia, who believe that a culture of on demand abortion is harming not only children, but women as well.
I am personally aware of at least 1500 individual prolife submissions to this inquiry that went in.
Here’s how I know this number: The ACL, Canberra Declaration and Love Adelaide each had a portal on their website so Australians could write individual prolife submissions and put them in. Cumulatively they had more than 1500 submissions. It is important to point out that the total number of prolife submissions are likely to be far more than this because many Australians would have put in their submissions independently of this portal.
In addition to this, the Senate inquiry has conducted four oral hearings and not a single prolife organisation or individual has been invited to appear. These hearings have involved 102 witnesses and the line-up has been predominantly from the abortion lobby (for example: Children By Choice, The Abortion Project, Marie Stopes) or pro-surrogacy/pro-LGBTIQ organisations.
All of this from a taxpayer funded Senate inquiry that purports to be transparent – that makes a big show of consulting the Australian people, but secretly behind the scenes eliminates voices it doesn’t agree with. The purpose of a Senate inquiry is to “help Senators to shape laws and to make better-informed decisions about matters they debate in the Senate”.
As a Professor of Law I have participated in at least ten Senate inquiries over my academic career and I have never seen anything like this before. It makes me gravely concerned for the future of Australian democracy when the people’s house excludes so many Australians when gathering evidence as part of its official business. It would be one thing for the Greens Senators Janet Rice and Larissa Waters and Labor Senator Louise Pratt to conduct a one-sided inquiry into women’s reproductive health if it were privately funded. But when it is publicly funded and informs public policy, then fair and transparent processes are a must.
With less than a week to go (the report is due on 11 May) and the vast majority of submissions still unpublished from the inquiry website, this greatly taints the work of this committee and its report.
Dr Joanna Howe is a Professor of Law and speaks out on the issue of abortion on social media accounts (@drjoannahowe) on Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook and Youtube to inform and inspire a new prolife generation in Australia.
**The due date for the committee to report has been further extended until 25 May 2023**
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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