Queensland parliament must seize opportunity to ensure safe and legal access to abortion services

Queensland MPs must urgently support abortion law reform to make Queensland law relevant to current clinical practice and community values, the Human Rights Law Centre said today.

The comment came after a Queensland parliamentary committee tabled a report that failed to make a recommendation on one of two abortion law reform bills currently before the parliament. The Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016 would put gestational limits on women’s right to choose an abortion after 24 weeks, create safe access zones around abortion clinics and provide for doctors and medical staff to conscientiously object to performing abortions. 

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the failure of the Committee to make a decision jeopardises an important opportunity for the Queensland Parliament to reform archaic laws. Fortunately parliament retains the ultimate power in this, and the opportunity remains for them to do the right thing and reform the law.

“The laws in Queensland criminalizing abortion are over 100 years old and are hopelessly out of step with community values and clinical practice. Every day these laws stay on the books is another day of Queensland providing second rate access to a basic women’s health service,” said Ms Howie.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Committee has failed to make any recommendation in relation to this bill and that it scuttled the related bill that would decriminalize abortion in Queensland,” said Ms Howie.

In 2016 the Committee recommended that the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Rights to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 not be passed.

Both Bills were introduced by independent MP Rob Pyne and are scheduled to be debated as cognate bills on 1 March 2017.

“We thank Mr Pyne for his leadership in bringing these reproductive rights issues to the fore. Now it is up to the Queensland government to throw its support behind reform, either through supporting Mr Pyne’s bills or by putting forward its own. One thing is clear, it’s unacceptable for Queensland MPs to do nothing. Retaining the status quo means keeping nineteenth century laws that carry a risk of prosecution for women and doctors involved in abortions,” said Ms Howie.

“The current law leaves women and doctors in a precarious legal position, despite abortions being performed every week in Queensland and across Australia. How long do women need to wait for their basic medical needs to be met without risking a criminal prosecution?” added Ms Howie.

The Bill, read together with the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Rights to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016, would:

  • remove all abortion offences from the Queensland Criminal Code;
  • regulate abortions performed after 24 weeks gestations under the Health Act 1937 (Qld);
  • create 50 metre “safe zones” around abortion clinics to protect women against harassment from anti-abortionists;
  • require doctors to perform an abortion if it is necessary to save a woman’s life or prevent serious physical injury.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, 0421 370 997

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519