Abetz 'sheepish' over comments: PM
Prime Minister Tony Abbott distances himself from comments made by Employment Minister Eric Abetz and says the public 'will not be hearing' them again. Network Ten.PT0M52S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3ddw2 620 349 August 8, 2014
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has appeared to reprimand Eric Abetz for comments he made linking abortion to breast cancer and says the senior minister feels "sheepish" about the resulting furore.
The federal government has spent the day distancing itself from Senator Abetz's remarks made in a TV interview on Thursday after a flurry of criticism from medical groups.
Mr Abbott said on Friday that he has since spoken to Senator Abetz about his comments.
"I've already had a conversation about Eric. I think he's a little sheepish about it. I don't think you'll find that kind of thing being said again,'' he said.
Senator Abetz, the leader of the government in the upper house and the Employment Minister, made the comments on Channel Ten program The Project when asked if he believed the ''factually incorrect'' statement that abortion leads to breast cancer.
''I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer,'' he said.
The Prime Minister joined Health Minister Peter Dutton in dismissing any link between abortion and breast cancer.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney on Friday that he did not believe there was a connection between the two and the studies Senator Abetz referred to in the interview had been discredited.
"That so-called research has long been discredited," he said.
Earlier, Mr Dutton said it was ''obvious'' there was no connection.
''It's obvious there's no link between abortion and breast cancer and Senator Abetz has released a clarifying statement this morning,'' Mr Dutton said.
''Medical evidence needs to be the driver in this area.''
On Friday, Mia Freedman, whose questions prompted the original comments from Senator Abetz, said the minister's response were "incredibly dangerous".
"It's as dangerous as anti-vaccine propaganda and it's as dangerous as Holocaust deniers," she said.
Asked about the Holocaust denial analogy, Freedman said: "You're allowed your own opinions but you're not allowed your own facts."
Senator Abetz, who is openly anti-abortion, said on Friday morning he was cut off before he could clarify his position.
The comments have prompted a storm of criticism with Australian Medical Association saying the comments were irresponsible and acting Greens Leader Adam Bandt calling on Mr Abbott to ban his ministers from attending this months’s World Congress of Families in Melbourne, where abortion and breast cancer is one of the topics to be discussed.
The chief executive officer of Breast Cancer Network Australia said on Friday that drawing links between abortion and breast cancer was harmful and concerning.
"I think it's really harmful to give credibility to claims like this. It could potentially give women unnecessary concern about something there is absolutely no evidence for," Maxine Morand said.
But Mr Dutton said on Friday it would be ''absurd'' to assume that ministers agreed with certain views just because they attended a particular conference.
''All of us go to conferences regularly and I think it would be absurd to suggest that you agree with everything that every contributor had to say,'' he said.
''I think it would be ridiculous to suggest if you're going to a conference you must align with every view that's expressed at that conference.''
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Senator Abetz had capped off a shocking week for the government with comments that were ''disgusting'' and ''repulsive, hurtful and ignorant''.
''Views like that whether or not they exist in the 1950s have no place in modern Australian society,'' Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.
He said no one claiming to be a leader in Australian politics should be associating with such remarks.
''They're disgusting, but it just caps off what undoubtedly has been a shocking disaster week for the government,'' Mr Shorten said.
''We had Treasurer Joe Hockey blaming everyone, including the unemployed this week, for his unfair budget not making progress.
''We had George Brandis, hapless and accident-prone do silly things in the last few days. Now we've had Eric Abetz make these comments which are truly repulsive.''
Labor's health spokeswoman Catherine King said Senator Abetz's remarks were ''absurd'' and exposed both his "prejudice and ignorance''.
In a statement released on Friday, Ms King said ''no amount of weasel words can hide the ignorance and prejudice of the government's most senior Senator''.
''Asked a straight question, Senator Abetz gave a straight answer, endorsing discredited 60-year-old research and US anti-abortion propaganda,'' she said.
The abortion-breast cancer theory has been rejected by Cancer Australia, the World Health Organisation, the US National Cancer Institute, Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and health authorities in Victoria and NSW.
Mr Bandt said that if Mr Abbott ‘‘accepts the science and respects women’s freedom, he should censure Minister Abetz and ensure that his ministers do not attend this conference either’’.
Mr Bandt lashed out at Senator Abetz for scaring young women by “peddling his dark, anti-choice ideology on national television” and called on the minister to immediately apologise.
“Eric Abetz’s comments are an insult, not just to any woman who has suffered breast cancer or who has had an abortion, but to all women,” he said.
“This is a government of old men who do not share modern Australian values.
“We are witnessing just how much this government has a problem with women’s freedom.
“These offensive comments come from the Minister responsible for promoting women in the workplace. He must immediately apologise.”
"If he's quoting papers from the 1950s, I suspect that's where he's living," the AMA president, Associate Professor Brian Owler, said.
"I think it's really irresponsible for people to be using their own ideology and projecting it on, particularly, women."
Labor MP Alannah Mactiernan says Senator Abetz's comments betray the ''monoculture'' within the federal cabinet, which has only one woman, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
"I think they've got a cultural problem in their party in that they think it’s acceptable to have just one woman in the cabinet," she told Fairfax Media.
She said the cabinet's make-up is ''not really reflective of the community'' and said it explained some of government's ''poor'' decisions such as the now abandoned attempt to change the Racial Discrimination Act.