Abortion rights safe: PM

Labor will always support and protect access to publicly funded abortions, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised in yet another pitch to the female vote.

Labor will always support and protect access to publicly funded abortions, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised in yet another pitch to the female vote.

In what are believed to be her most outspoken comments on the issue, Ms Gillard told a dinner held by the Australian Medical Association on Wednesday night that vigilance was required to "protect the progress we've made, particularly in women's health".

"Women must have the right to healthcare and women must have the right to choose," Ms Gillard said in the speech, unreported at the time.

"Whether it's the independence of the [Therapeutic Goods Administration's] decisions in regulating fertility treatments, whether it's allowing our foreign aid budget to include spending on family planning, whether it's supporting a woman's right to choose through Medicare-funded services, that's my commitment to Australian women as Prime Minister."

The speech fitted in with Ms Gillard's recent pitch to women through social media and a morning tea she held with some of the most influential bloggers and commentators on women's issues.

Advisers to the Prime Minister said the comments were part of a strategy to talk more about issues of importance to women, such as childcare, flexible working hours, the equal pay case and superannuation.

Childcare and the abolition of gender discrimination in the workplace were no longer seen as matters of interest only to female voters, one senior source said.

"Men in the outer suburbs would never say they're feminists but they would sign up for a feminist agenda," he said.

"There's a battler dad in the suburbs who thinks his daughter could be the CEO of a major company. Women's unequal access to various things is a matter of concern to all Australians. It's not a matter of whether you're for a feminist agenda but whether you're for a fair go for all."

The Gillard government has consistently pushed the line that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has a problem with women. They point to comments he made when he was health minister that abortion was a "tragedy" and his stripping of the ministerial veto over the so-called morning-after pill, RU486. Last year, Mr Abbott said if the Coalition was returned to government, he would not wind back abortion laws.

During the week, Ms Gillard hit back at a cartoonist and blogger Larry Pickering, whom she accused of running a "vile and sexist" campaign against her.

Abortion is a vexed issue for both major parties. Both have MPs who would like much tougher anti-abortion laws. There was significant upset on both sides when Labor unwound a Howard government directive that prevented foreign aid funding from being spent on family planning in developing countries.

While abortion law is a state matter, the Commonwealth is involved through Medicare rebates.

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