RU 486, the drug used for abortions, was the subject of intense scrutiny in the Australian media in the early months of 2006.
A vote was taken in the federal Parliament - ostensibly on whether the Health Minister should continue to have control over the importation of the drug or whether this should be passed to the Therapeutic Drugs Administration.
However, the debate was really about the promotion and use of RU 486 as an abortion method.
The parliament passed the "Inquiry into Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005" where the purpose is to "remove responsibility for approval for RU486 from the Minister for Health and Ageing and to provide responsibility for approval of RU486 to the Therapeutic Goods Administration."
The vote was 45 to 28 in the Senate and at the second reading in the House of Representatives on 16 February the vote was 95 to 50.
No vote was taken on the final third reading.
This page deals with the federal parliament debate and vote.
About RU 486: More information on the RU 486 drug.
The Federal parliament debate
In 1996 the Federal Parliament voted to approve a situation where the Federal Health Minister had the final authority to allow or disallow the importation and use of RU 486.
This move was supported by both political parties and Independent Senator Brian Harradine.
Prior to that decision, an official in the Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA) had illegally allowed a trial of the drug. It was seen that, because RU 486 is NOT a therapeutic drug when used for abortion, scrutiny of the use of the drug should remain with elected representatives who are accountable rather than with the TGA.
In August 2005, Professor Caroline de Costa, a university lecturer and doctor in Queensland, wrote an article that was printed in the Medical Journal of Australia calling for the legalisation and use of RU 486 in Australia.
Click here for her article.
Various MPs took up the call - one of them being Sharman Stone, the Liberal member for Murray. Then in December 2005 it became clear that a private member's bill would be put into the Senate.
Senate Committee Report
The Senate sent the Bill to a Senate Committee enquiry - this was conducted by the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
Information relating to the Committee's Inquiry, documents relating to the Bill, the Explanatory Memorandum, second reading speech and extracts from the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 that were proposed to be repealed by the Bill are on the Committee website. Click here.
Submissions were invited from interested groups and individuals and public hearings were held.
Report: The Committee handed their report to the Senate on Wednesday 8 February.
Click here to read the Report.
The debate in the Senate started that same afternoon around 4.00 pm.
So much for carefully analysing the results of the Committee report before deciding one's position!
Four Senators moved the Bill - one from each of four major parties:
Senator Lyn Allison (Democrats), Senator Judith Troeth (Liberal), Senator Claire Moore (Labor) and Senator Fiona Nash (Nationals).
The Bill was aimed at removing the responsibility for the approval of RU 486 from the Health Minister and giving the responsibility to the TGA. The promoters of the Bill continually told other MPs and the public that the issue was not abortion, simply a procedural matter.
However the close alliance between the Senators and doctors and others promoting RU 486 revealed their true intention - to have RU 486 legalised in Australia.
Immediately after the Bill was passed in the House of Representatives, the promoters of the Bill drank champagne and media reports the following day announced that the drug would be available within a year.
The Senate voted 45 to 26 to approve the Bill.
A list of how the Senators voted on this Bill - 45 to 28 in the Senate
It was a 'conscience vote' and Senators and MPs were allowed to vote as they chose.
Click herefor that day's Senate Hansard (the vote is recorded on pages numbered 59-60).
Details of the vote in the House of Representatives
The Bill was debated in the House of Representatives a week later, with the Bill passing on 16 February 2006.
Even though the final Bill was passed 'on the voices' (see below), a Second Reading vote was taken on the intention of the members regarding the Bill - this was 95 to 50 in favour of the Bill.
We are disappointed that a final division and counted vote was not called on the Bill.
However, the Second Reading vote gives the general intention of the member's vote on the Bill.
There may have been some Members who voted for the Bill in the Second Reading and then voted for the Laming amendment who might then have decided to vote against the total Bill itself in the third reading. Since a final vote was not counted we cannot definitively say who supported the final Bill - although there were only six more MPs who voted for the Laming amendment than the number who had voted against the Bill.
Jackie Kelly's amendment
Following the debate on the Bill itself, the amendment sponsored by Jackie Kelly, which would have given the veto on the drug to the whole Parliament instead of the Health Minister was considered.
This was defeated by 96 votes to 49.
Second reading vote
A vote was then taken on the second reading of the Bill.
This was 95 in favour, 50 against.
This gives the intention of the members regarding the actual Bill.
Andrew Laming's amendment
Following the Second Reading vote, the amendment proposed by Andrew Laming was considered. This would have given the responsibility to the TGA but given the parliament the right to veto the TGA decision.
This amendment lost by a vote of 90 to 56.
The Bill then went to a third and final reading and vote. No count of the vote was taken on the Third Reading. The Bill was passed 'on the voices' since no one called for a division.
Voting on the Bill and Amendments
For a list of how all MPs voted on each of the amendments - and most importantly on the Second Reading, see the Hansard.
This is a pdf document.
For the relevant three votes and lists of MPs, refer to the numbered (not actual) pages of the document.
Second Reading - starts Page 13.
Jackie Kelly amendment - Page 13 - vote Page 51.
Second reading vote - Pages 52 - 53.
Andrew Laming amendment - Pages 53 - vote Page 62.
Third Reading - Page 63.
Thank youto all those who contacted their MPs on this important issue.
Congratulations to all the MPs who spoke against the Bill and proposed amendments.
Media articles following the final vote:
Controversial bill passes, The Age, February 16, 2006
Australia Shifts Control of Abortion Drug, AP, Feb 16, 2006.
CANBERRA OBSERVED: RU-486 vote highlights MPs' moral confusion
News Weekly, 4 March 2006.