Two senior South Australian Liberal MPs have responded to a federal Liberal senator, who attacked their push for abortion reform in the state as “brutal” and “unconscionable”.
South Australian Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, and Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink, have co-authored a damning response to Senator Alex Antic, saying he does not understand the history or principles of the Liberal Party, and that his attack on their abortion reform is insulting to women.
In a letter sent to Chapman earlier this week, Antic argued that the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2020, which Lensink introduced the state parliament recently, “seeks to radically change South Australia’s current abortion laws under the pretence of ‘decriminalisation’.”
Antic wrote “The Liberal Party I know would reject the Bill”, and that is was “difficult to understand the logic of pursuing the Bill”, especially as “Ours is not a Party of Radical Left”.
Without mincing words, Chapman and Lensink replied that, “the question now is not whether termination should be lawful. That was settled over 50 years ago. The correct question is how do we bring the law in line with medical advances and allow for best clinical care.”
“You write of the Liberal Party [you] know – it is unfortunate as a Liberal Party representative that you do not know the Party’s history and further that you believe the membership to be comprised solely of views that align with your own,” they wrote.
“You state we are not a Party of the radical Left. Nor are we a Party of the extreme Right that is beholden to sectional interests.
“In Menzies’ words, we march down the middle of the road.”
Chapman and Lensink cite the South Australian Liberal Party’s history of reform in the area of abortion, including that the Young Liberal Movement passed a motion at their convention in 1968 to allow for lawful abortions, and that Liberal LCL Attorney-General Robin Millhouse introduced a bill to bring to an end “backyard abortions”.
“Important social reform does not belong to Labor and minor parties,” they wrote.
Chapman continued to school Antic on the original philosophy of the Liberal Party.
“In my 50 years’ involvement with the Party, I have never heard it be said that “protecting the unborn child is in [its] DNA. I have, however, heard that conscience votes are a fundamental Liberal principle and something that distinguishes us from other political parties; a right which you call into question on a matter with which you disagree,” she said.
In his letter, Antic also argued that the reform would frivolously enable late-term abortions. Chapman and Lensink said it was insulting to suggest women are frivolous when it comes to decisions about their body and health.
“Approximately 1.8% of terminations in South Australia were performed after 20 weeks in 2019. These are rare procedures and in practice any woman seeking a termination after 20 weeks is supported by a multidisciplinary medical team,” Chapman and Lensink wrote.
“It is frankly insulting to women to suggest they would seek a termination after this time for frivolous reasons – not to mention to their doctors – rather than appreciating that the unborn child may have abnormalities that make it incapable of surviving to term or the mother requires chemotherapy to treat cancer.
“You will never need a termination. I sincerely hope you would support a sister, daughter or friend when she is faced with one of the most difficult decisions of her life, rather than moralising at her and assuming you, for whatever reason, knows best.
The response from Chapman and Lensink concludes by congratulating Antic, a junior member of the Liberal party, on receiving attention from the media.
“Finally, I congratulate you on receiving press attention. I concede it must be difficult as the junior member of the federal team.
“Next time – just for something different – perhaps it can be for something other than baselessly attacking Liberal Party women in the State Parliament.”
Read the full letter from Vickie Chapman and Michelle Lensink below.