Queensland’s archaic abortion laws

Abortion law is one of many reasons why state-based law in Australia is idiotic and why the states should be either abolished or have their powers removed to the Commonwealth. Available legally elsewhere, abortion is technically illegal in Queensland but common in practice. To obtain an abortion here, a woman has to find a doctor prepared to say the abortion is needed to preserve her from serious physical or mental harm. An abortion trial in Cairns in North Queensland has thrown the blind-eye system into crisis. Public hospitals in Brisbane, Rockhampton and Mackay began refusing abortions because of concerns relating to the case in which a young couple was charged over a medical abortion forcing women to travel interstate to procure a legal abortion.

Abortion remains a criminal offence under provisions of the Queensland Act that date back to English Victorian times. Women can be criminally prosecuted for accessing abortion under Sections 224, 225 and 226 of the act. Section 282 offers a defence for patient benefit or the preservation of the mother’s life. In 1985 the Bjelke-Petersen government actively sought out a case to shut down the Greenslopes Fertility Control Clinic. The court ruled for the Clinic saying prosecutions were too difficult to achieve under Section 224. The judge also said the status of Queensland’s abortion laws was uncertain. Since then, the law on abortion has not been tested.That changed in April this year when a Cairns woman was charged with organising her own abortion. Tegan Leach, 19, faces a possible seven years in jail under section 225 after allegedly bringing in an illegal overseas drug to carry out the procedure. Her partner Sergie Brennan,21,  has also been charged under Section 226 with the supply of the drugs and with procuring an abortion and could face three years. The couple’s lawyer argued because no chemical analysis was done there was no evidence to prove the drugs Leach took were poisonous or noxious. Magistrate Sandra Pearson adjourned the hearing, saying she would deliver her verdict at a date to be set.

The State Government rushed a bill into parliament to attempt to clarify the existing law which refers only to surgical procedures. The bill made minor retrospective changes to Section 282 of the Criminal Code which protects doctors who perform drug-induced abortions. It was passed with bi-partisan support after an opposition briefing. There was no conscience vote as it does not touch on the moral aspects of abortion. As pro-life LNP Gympie MP David Gibson said in parliament, the bill does not decriminalise abortion. Its objective was to ensure a legal to a person who “provides medical or surgical treatment for a patient’s benefit or provides surgical or medical treatment affecting an unborn child for the preservation of a mother’s life or for the benefit of the unborn child.”

Gladstone independent Liz Cunningham was the only dissenter. She brought a petition to parliament signed by 1,265 people opposing decriminalisation. But many thousands more ignore the law. According to Family Planning Queensland, there were 14,386 abortions carried out in the state in 2006 out of a national total of 71,773, roughly 20 percent of the total. The 15 minute procedure used is the surgical curette which uses a tube to suck the lining and the contents out of the uterus with a small plastic tube. The curette is a very safe procedure with complications in just 0.4 percent of all cases.

Although decriminalisation of abortion has been Labor Party policy platform for 30 years, the State Government shows no sign of implementing it. Premier Anna Bligh says it would require a conscience vote which she says would not only lose but might produce even tougher laws. Andrew Bartlett says it is not “sufficient reason not to bring on a debate, which would at least clarify the issue.”

According to Queensland’s Right to Life (recently renamed as “Cherish Life”) the abortion issue is “the value we accord the individual human life from conception to birth.” But most people don’t believe the value is constant along that line from conception to birth. As Jesuit priest and author on ethical matters, Frank Brennan, says there is a huge difference between “disposing of a beaker full of embryos” and the dismembering and killing [of] a near viable foetus who is only days and inches from a life protected by law and respected by society.” It is time Queensland law caught up with this reality and repealed sections 224, 225 and 226 of the criminal code.

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