The Guardian August 9, 2000


Howard: anti-women, anti-family

by Magda Hansson

Another right won 16 years ago, the right not to be discriminated against 
on the grounds of marital status or sexual preference, is under attack by 
the Howard Government at the behest of the forces of reaction.

The Government is attempting to amend sections of the Federal Sex 
Discrimination Act to allow States to allow only married or de facto 
heterosexual couples to have access to fertility treatments.

Last week a single Melbourne woman and her doctor successfully challenged 
the Victorian 1995 Infertility Treatment Act in the Federal Court. The Act 
was found to be in breach of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Act.

The Victorian law, which had restricted access to fertility procedures to 
married and de facto heterosexual couples, has been changed as a result of 
the case.

According to guidelines put out by the Victorian Government, infertility 
treatment in Victoria will now be available to women deemed clinically 
infertile, regardless of their marital or de facto status, but single women 
who are fertile will be banned.

Howard wants to leave the entire issue in the hands of the States and to do 
so intends to change federal laws.

This is in stark contrast to his approach to mandatory sentencing in the NT 
and WA and failure to legislate for the protection of pregnant women in the 
workplace.

In the case of mandatory sentencing, Howard claimed he did not want to 
interfere with the rights of States to implement their own laws, and 
refused to override them with federal legislation.

And while it took the Government just two days to formulate a plan to water 
down the Anti-Discrimination Act, a report from the Anti-Discrimination 
Commissioner that urges the government to legislate stronger protection for 
pregnant workers has languished in the Government's holding pattern for a 
year.

The report documents many cases of discrimination against pregnant women 
and urges the Government to drop its resistance to paid maternity leave.

Howard states that he believes a child has a right to a mother and a father 
and that this underlies his decision to amend the federal legislation. 
These are his words but what are his actions?

He wants to intervene in States' rights on the issue of euthanasia and 
access to fertility treatment for single women, both personal decisions not 
made lightly, but he refuses to intervene in the mandatory sentencing laws 
which mostly effect Aboriginal people, particularly youths, involved in 
petty crimes against property.

Single women have accessed fertility treatment programmes mostly for donor 
insemination. Only a small percentage of single women also exhibit 
infertility. What they lack is a male partner or suitable sperm donor.

Single women choose to access donor insemination programmes because they 
can be sure of the viability of the sperm and with the knowledge that, as 
with blood products, it has undergone clinical testing for transmittable 
diseases.

Women who access these services have thought seriously about having a child 
and what that means to their life. They want to maintain their health and 
that of their child.

Part of the Government's plan is to restrict Medicare access to IVF. This 
would make it prohibitive to many women. Private clinics may cost them a 
considerable amount of money before they conceive.

Women using the services either do not have a male partner or do not choose 
to have a male partner.

UN commitments

Howard wants to renege on Australia's responsibilities that have been 
undertaken through the signing of various United Nations declarations when 
it comes to mandatory sentencing and protection from discrimination, but he 
is cynically trying to use the UN declaration on the Rights of the Child to 
support his anti-IVF stance.

In the meantime he is reviewing Australia's future in general as a 
signatory to UN declarations.

Howard's politics are driven by reactionary religious fundamentalist 
ideologues whose ideas underpin the thinking of the Liberal and National 
Parties.

His Government is profoundly anti-women and has no regard for fathers or 
children or mothers. Economically, corporate profits are his number one 
priority.

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