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WA Pro-lifers accuse government of secrecy

The West Australian government has been accused of secrecy over its handling of a review into WA's abortion laws. The law -- the most liberal in Australia when passed in 1998 -- are now being examined as part of a requirement in the Act that it be reviewed after three years.

However, Coalition for the Defence of Human Life secretary Ted Watt claims the process is being kept from public scrutiny.

The public comment process was inadequate and a shroud of secrecy hung over who was sitting on the review panel that would report its findings to Health Minister Bob Kucera, Mr Watt said.

The Government ran an advertisement in The West Australian last month giving notice of a five-week deadline for public comment on the laws.

Mr Watt said the timetable was unrealistic because many people would be on holiday over the festive period.

The Government also has decided not to reveal the identity of all but two members of the review committee and the expert advisory group that will be consulted by the committee on some technical matters, a situation Mr Watt described as unacceptable.

"The Government says this secrecy is necessary because abortion is a controversial issue but if you're being fair dinkum then the more controversial an issue is the more open to scrutiny it needs to be," Mr Watt said.

"Instead we have a review of laws allowing the killing of an unborn child being carried out by an unknown group of people."

Mr Watt said the public was being given a Clayton's inquiry and the objectivity of the review must be doubted if the respective backgrounds of committee members was suppressed.

Mr Kucera rejected Mr Watt's claims, saying the Department of Health had written to all key stakeholders, including the Coalition for the Defence of Human Life, seeking comment. The abortion debate had been extremely heated and it was appropriate not to name publicly the people on the review committee.

"Many individuals were targeted for personal attack by various pressure groups," Mr Kucera said. "Therefore, it was appropriate that people on the review committee were not identified."

"I have full confidence in the Department of Health to ensure that those professionals who need to be kept informed about the operations of the Act will be fully involved in the review process - as will all other stakeholder groups."

Under existing laws, abortions up to 20 weeks are legal but counselling must be offered. Abortions after 20 weeks must have approval from a medical panel at King Edward Memorial Hospital.

The WA Health Department was advised of 8365 abortions in 2000-01, up from 8220 the previous year and 7932 in 1998-99.

The review committee will report to Mr Kucera by May 26.

The West Australian