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Fed: Aust won't be "driven" by US move on abortion: Smith

By Sandra O'Malley, Diplomatic Correspondent
30 Jan 2009 5:44 PM

CANBERRA, Jan 30 AAP - The Rudd government has signalled it will not be pushed into following a United States decision to lift a ban on foreign aid money being used on abortion-related services.

However, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says he expects the government to make a decision soon about any change in the policy.

He has been considering an internal report on the issue for more than six months.

The report is from a sub-committee of the Rudd government's national security committee, which has been liaising with caucus members over whether to lift the restriction.

US President Barack Obama last week ended a ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform or provide information about abortions, which prevented the organisations receiving funding for other work, as well.

Mr Smith said the Australian policy was still under consideration.

"I don't think we're too far away from making a decision, but we'll do that in our own time," Mr Smith told ABC Radio on Friday.

"We're not going to be driven by the decision that President Obama has made.

"As I've said over the last few months, we'll do that in our own time, in our own careful way."

Pro-choice Labor MPs are expected to up the pressure on cabinet to make a decision about overturning the Australian ban at a Labor caucus meeting next week.

Labor Senator Claire Moore, the chairwoman of the parliamentary group on population and development, told AAP since caucus was involved in consultation on the report, it was appropriate it have a say now.

"Seeing that did go through a caucus process it seems appropriate for what happens next ... (that it involves) caucus," she said.

Senator Moore believes there is support for a change in policy.

She said aid policy should be determined each year as part of the budget process.

"Having special ... guidelines within AusAID funding on this issue we believe is not appropriate and is something that should be changed," Senator Moore said.

The AusAID guidelines were imposed by the previous Howard government in the 1990s in return for Senate support from key independent Brian Harradine.

Oxfam Australia acting executive director Chris Roche warned that the current policy worked against efforts to boost health outcomes in the third world.

Mr Roche told reporters if there was to be any hope of meeting the Millennium Development Goals aimed at alleviating global poverty something had to be done to reduce maternal mortality rates.

"We can see maternal mortality rates are growing in some countries including some in this region," he told reporters.

"Unless and until women have access to a full range of reproductive health support and training ... then we're not going to achieve those Millennium Development Goals."