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John Young: Gillard Politicises Abortion

This article is reposted with permission from the True Believers page on Facebook.

It is written by John Young, a Sydney barrister. In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked for Lionel Bowen, deputy leader of the Labor Party. Bowen was a minister in the Whitlam government and Deputy Prime Minister in the Hawke government until 1990.


I am John Young, one of the founders of the True Believers page on Facebook.

In 1979, I was working as Private Secretary to Lionel Bowen, then Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, when a National Party MP, Stephen Lusher, moved a motion in the House of Representatives to restrict the payment of medical benefits for terminations of pregnancy.

In 1979, the House of Representatives was comprised entirely of men. The Coalition was in government and many Australians, particularly women, feared that the Lusher motion would be carried.

The vote did not proceed along party lines but according to conscience. Among the fiercest opponents of the Lusher motion were Lionel Bowen and former Liberal PM Billy McMahon, who some might have expected to support the Lusher motion.

The Lusher motion created enormous division in the Parliament and in the community. However, eventually the motion was defeated by a quite large margin of 65 to 47.

The point of me sharing this information with you is that in 1979, with no women in the House of Representatives, and there being a Coalition government in power, a significant majority of members voted against the motion to limit medical benefits for abortions.

Neither Tony Abbott nor anyone else in the Coalition will turn back the political clock on the law on abortion. Some of you may be aware that abortion law is basically a matter for the States and Territories.

In a speech on Tuesday, Julia Gillard raised the spectre of the Coalition restricting access to abortions for women. This is division for division sake, and her pronouncements with respect to Tony Abbott and the Coalition are not based in fact.

Some members and supporters of both the Coalition and the Labor party are deeply concerned about the morality of abortion. However, they are not about to bring about changes to abortion laws in the States or Territories.

My experience working with Lionel Bowen during the Lusher motion was that Lusher was attempting to politicise the sensitive issue of abortion for his own political advantage.

In the 34 years since the Lusher motion was defeated, NO politician has attempted to politicise abortion until Julia Gillard did on Tuesday. The tactic failed for Stephen Lusher and it will fail for Julia Gillard.

An equally troubling aspect of Julia Gillard’s comments was the absurd unstated assumption that female voters should feel some obligation to vote for her simply because she is a woman. For Julia Gillard to tout for votes along gender lines is demeaning to the office of Prime Minister and insults voters in general.

This is the first time in Australian political history that I have heard a leader plead for support along gender lines. I hope it will be the last.

John Young on Twitter: @lightonhill

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