By TONY ABBOTT
Just before the caretaker period began on the eve of the 2004 election, I established a new Medicare item for the management of pregnancy.
Obstetricians’ fees would largely be covered by the safety net and mothers-to-be would be vastly less out of pocket for having a baby.
Although this move was made in consultation with the prime minister’s office, it led to one of my few serious disagreements with John Howard, who thought it would be a burden on the health budget.
In the run-up to the 2005 budget, more concerned than ever to rein in Medicare costs, the government proposed to increase safety net thresholds and to limit older women’s access to IVF. It’s a matter of record that I considered resignation over the safety net decision. Perhaps not going ahead with the IVF restrictions was my colleagues’ way of atoning for a decision I deplored.
I have never opposed IVF. How could any pro-family politician not encourage people to have children and make it easier for them to do so?
A minister’s job is to implement the policy of the government and to administer departmental programs. It is not to make moral decisions for people. Governments should do what’s best based on expert advice and keep prudent control over expenditure, as taxpayer dollars are not inexhaustible, but otherwise leave people to decide what’s right for them. Contrary to myth, as health minister I never sought to restrict access to the morning-after pill, never sought to prevent the importation of RU486 and never sought to limit access to abortion.
Australia is a pluralist democracy. It always has been and it always should be. The values that political parties and governments should uphold in a country like ours are those that can be justified on the basis of human reason and are potentially accessible to everyone.
After the 2010 federal election, my chief of staff told me she was going to start a family and needed to use IVF. I felt honoured that she had chosen to tell me and to ask for support.
I had some inkling of what IVF involved but hadn’t really grasped the multitude of appointments, tests and, above all, injections: big needles, small needles, this drug, that drug. Then there was the roller coaster of raised and dashed hopes, month after month. Peta Credlin managed this while maintaining her decision-making, priority-juggling and tension-massaging role that’s been a critical part of the Coalition’s success.
There are many types of bravery, including the courage that’s found close to home. It’s brave to persist with IVF. To do so while shouldering the burdens of a difficult job is extraordinary yet there are thousands of women in this position. They deserve our admiration and support.
This article was originally published here and has been republished with permission.
Tony Abbott is the Leader of the Opposition and the Federal Member for Warringah.