It’s hard to believe terminating pregnancy remains a crime.
Nearly one in three women has an abortion at some time in their life. It’s hard to believe but terminating a pregnancy remains a criminal offence in Queensland. Consider some other way this glaring contradiction could be reconciled other than a smack down for 21st century women.
Let’s face it: if men bore children ending unwanted pregnancies would’ve been legal long ago, even if the sunny land of Sir Joh, don’t you worry about that.
Thankfully someone is doing something about it. The ex-ALP Independent Member for Cairns, Rob Pyne, has pledged to draft a private member’s Bill to legalise abortion.
Women’s rights have come a long way in a century.
In 1902, Australia was the first country to allow women to run for parliament.
In 1965, Queenslanders Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor chained themselves to the bar of Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel, and ended the ban on women entering public bars.
A hundred years ago women couldn’t vote, stand for parliament, drink in bars, enter the workforce, use “the pill”, or end unwanted pregnancies.
After a century of progress, the glaring anomaly is that Queensland women still cannot exercise control over their own body – a hangover from an era when women had virtually no rights.
Abortion is legal in Victoria, ACT and Tasmania.
Mr Pyne was originally motivated by the prosecution of a young Cairns local couple in 2010, for allegedly obtaining an abortion using the drug RU486.
“When that couple were on trial in Cairns, the injustice of it really touched a chord with me,” Mr Pyne said.
“Having an elderly male judge and prosecutors talking about the most intimate details involving a woman’s own body, that’s just wrong.”
Queensland doctors continue to risk criminal charges by providing about 700 procedures a year in the far north, relying on 30-year-old court ruling that ending the pregnancy is allowable when it poses a serious danger to a woman’s physical and mental health.
In an October 2015 Medical Journal of Australia editorial, Professor Caroline de Costa and Professor Heather Douglas argued that Queensland law must be updated to provide uniform access to legal and safe terminations for women in Australia.
Current laws are inherently contradictory, given that testing for fetal abnormalities is not only legal but Medicare-funded, and yet couples cannot act on the results. Cairns Doctors medical director Heather McNamee says the law is “out of kilter with modern medical practice”.
The law results in women seeking medical help interstate – the phenomenon ghoulishly referred to as “abortion tourism”.
Since criminalisation fails to stop or even reduce the number of women seeking to end pregnancies, the moral protests become largely redundant. International studies show that the numbers of terminated pregnancies do not increase following legalisation.
There is also a general reluctance to prosecute cases in Queensland, indicating a disparity between the law and community standards.
In Victoria, a woman can access a termination up to 24 weeks with the agreement of one doctor, and after 24 weeks if two doctors agree. In Tasmania there is a 16 week limit before another doctor must approve.
Following on from similar legislation in Victoria, the ACT has recently created 50 metre buffer zones around the clinic to stop pro-life protesters from harassing, intimidating and filming women entering.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said women “can access the medical services they require without being forced to endure the judgment of others”.
But in Queensland, the law still reflects the “judgment of others”, overriding a woman’s bodily sovereignty.
For many, the furore over Donald Trump’s comments that women should face “some form of punishment” for having an abortion, galvanizes a link between anti-abortion and misogynistic views.
Even though Attorney-General Yvette D’ath has said government policy remains unchanged, we can only hope that the new Bill acts as a suitable wake-up call.
“Queensland women should not be treated as criminals for wanting control over their own bodies”, says Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters.
Over 80 per cent of Australians think a woman should have the right to choose whether she terminates a pregnancy or not.
Whatever your view, the nature of pregnancy dictates that moral calculations cannot ignore the rights and free choice of the woman concerned. The question is whether the law should continue to kowtow to archaic moralising, or rather, as other states have done, enshrine in law the overwhelming public support and acceptance of abortion, as a common and necessary medical procedure.