The Australian government is considering overturning a 12-year-old policy prohibiting the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) from funding abortion advice, training and services in developing countries.
Opponents of the policy change say it is driven by domestic ideological concerns rather than requests from aid-receiving nations. Those supporting a revamp of the current policy claim it harms women in the Asia-Pacific region’s poorest countries, Cybercast News Service reports.
The present Australian policy was instated by the Liberal-National coalition government of former Prime Minister John Howard due to the work of pro-life independent senator Brian Harradine.
There is growing support for the “Harradine guidelines” to be overturned. A cross-party parliamentary group in May 2007 called the policy “cruel and illogical” and claimed it effectively encouraged unsafe illegal abortions.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labor government is now examining the issue. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who can lift the restrictions without any legislative action, has asked the Labor caucus to debate the issue and recommend what action to take, if any.
Senator Ron Boswell of the National Party is leading efforts to preserve the regulations. He asked a Senate hearing on government expenditure whether AusAID recipient countries had requested abortion-related funding.
"The [foreign affairs] department responded that they were not aware of any particular requests to fund abortion related activities," he said.
"Why is the Rudd government even considering funding abortion in its overseas aid programs when Australia has never done so in the past and has not been approached by other countries to do so?"
Boswell said churches and church aid agencies would oppose “any decision to use Australia's overseas aid programs to further the ideological aims of a pro-abortion lobby group at home.” Boswell predicted a backlash from Christian voters if the policy is changed.
According to Cybercast News Service, Labor lawmaker Bob McMullan said some Australians share Boswell’s view of the policy, but “a large bulk of people” did not feel passionately about it, and others opposed it.The Harradine guidelines have been compared to the U.S. government’s “Mexico City Policy,” which denies aid funds to non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions.