Opinion: Abortion rights in Queensland need to change

SHAY LEDINGHAM

Queensland's abortion laws are long outdated.  Source: Creative Commons Flickr.

Queensland’s abortion laws are long outdated.
Source: flikr.com

If you’re seeking one, you’re probably trying to do the right thing.

Perhaps the decision to get one has been morally agonising. Or it might have been comfortable and straightforward.

Really though, the reason for getting one shouldn’t matter, and the only reason I use the term “shouldn’t” instead of “doesn’t” (because it really doesn’t) comes down to an outdated and misogynistic law.

Because if you get one in Queensland, you could be committing a criminal act.

Abortions in Queensland remain effectively illegal, with the law unchanged from our 1899 Criminal Code. It states any person who aids, or any woman herself, who conducts an abortion whether through medical or physical means, is breaking the law. The punishment can be up to 14 years jail time.

The law was originally from Britain. They repealed the same legislation in 1967.

In the 1980s a precedent was set for “exceptional cases” of abortion. A procedure wouldn’t be unlawful if it was argued as preventing serious danger to the mother’s physical or mental health (notably excluding the dangers of child birth or the possibility of foetal deformation).

These are the only provisions through which you can claim the right to terminate a pregnancy in Queensland.

In 2009 a young couple from Cairns were charged under this law. Deciding they were not prepared to have a baby, they sought to medically induce an abortion. In addressing the jury, the prosecutor for the case said to put feelings of “fairness” to one side, claiming the members were sitting in a court of law, not a court of morals.

The couple were eventually acquitted, but suffered under the extensive publicity at the time.

The rising debate

Abortion issues have been rising in public conversation of late, triggered by the #ShoutYourAbortion trend begun by LA graduate student Amelia Bonow. Choosing to break the sense of stigma she felt surrounding her choice, Bonow posted a Facebook status about how happy she was that she wasn’t forced to become a mother.

Then in late September, the Tabbot Foundation was launched. Operating across multiple states, the telehealth provider allows women to call for over-the-phone medical terminations. Experts praised the service, saying it would reduce costs, improve regional access, and increase the change of connecting with women who would avoid approaching a clinic. After only a few days, the foundation said it was overwhelmed with the number of calls, having to find alternative sources in order to treat everyone who reached out to them.

Now, two law and medicine professionals have written about the dire need for national reform over our outdated abortion laws in the Medical Journal of Australia. Citing the advancement of medical diagnosis technologies which are able to detect foetal abnormality in pregnancy earlier, there are still laws in practice that don’t allow severe abnormality as a reason for termination, for example in Queensland.

The authors said Victoria’s model was best, with decision-making resting with the woman, or the woman and her doctor.

No woman should have to provide a reason

It is disappointing to know that a woman’s prerogative to her life, her body and her future is not enough on its own.

Women should be in complete control of their own bodies and not one should be forced to bring a human life into this world against her will.

But if we must have reasons, then let’s overload the system.

Let’s consider all of the possible financial, social, physical or mental health situations of a woman, of her life, or her surroundings. Maybe she is a victim of rape, or incest, or sexual abuse. Or she could be in violent relationship where matters of reproductive coercion exist, and she is desperate to maintain some level of control. Perhaps her contraception failed. She might already be a mother, or she might already know she never wants to be one.

If the state government is serious about thwarting the scourge of domestic violence, if they are evenly remotely concerned with the development of a Human Rights Act within our state, then they should be moving to amend the current laws in Queensland.

And if that only happens to be an inclusion of foetal abnormalities, well at least we can rest assured that it will only take another century or so for the next reform.

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