Experts and community groups urge Queensland Attorney General to act on abortion law reform

Experts and community groups urge Queensland Attorney General to act on abortion law reform

The Queensland Government should demonstrate a commitment to women’s health and refer abortion to the state’s Law Reform Commission a coalition of legal, medical and community groups said.

Sunday 28 May marks the International Day of Action on Women’s Health. The day also signals three months since the government committed to this referral which would be a step towards fully decriminalising abortion in Queensland.

Kate Marsh from Children by Choice said, “On this International Day of Action, we’re calling on the Attorney General Yvette D’Arth to act on abortion law reform and make this referral a priority.”

“Queenslanders have been waiting so long already for these laws to be brought up to date. In no other area of medicine do we have law from the 1800s governing contemporary practice,” added Ms Marsh.

Renee Carr, Executive Director of Fair Agenda, said, “The current laws are from the dark ages. Queensland women deserve for decriminalisation of their healthcare decisions to be a priority.”

“To continue to deny women the legal right to make decisions about their own fertility and health is unfathomable, and unacceptable, and further delays in referring this to the Law Reform Commission for full inquiry just perpetuates this uncertainty,” added Ms Carr.

Professor Heather Douglas from the University of Queensland’s TC Beirne School of Law says Queensland is falling further behind other states and territories when it comes to abortion law.

“Most other states and territories have already reformed their abortion laws. The Queensland parliament have been unable to get the job done. We are now relying on the Law Reform Commission to come up with a framework that modernises the law on abortion in Queensland. We can’t keep delaying action on this important issue for Queenslanders,” said Professor Douglas.

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “The law as it stands creates an unacceptable level of uncertainty for doctors and patients. We need to bring abortion laws out of the 19th century and into line with community expectation, current clinical practice, and common sense.”

Dr Fiona Mack, a GP who provides medication termination, said that the delays in reform have the most impact on vulnerable Queenslanders seeking terminations of pregnancy.

“Some women face extraordinarily high barriers to abortion access, including people who are living with violence or poverty, and women with severe physical or mental health conditions who have been turned away from their public hospital while seeking abortion,” said Dr Mack.

“This includes patients with cancer diagnoses and other serious physical health conditions which are severely impacted by pregnancy. Women in these situations can find themselves having to seek abortion care in the private sector, even if they are already hospital patients, because some hospitals are so reluctant to provide abortion in any situation,” added Dr Mack.

Children by Choice, which provides financial assistance for abortion access, said many of the women needing this help are already very vulnerable.

“Almost half the funds we provided in abortion access over the past three years went to women living with violence. Ten percent went to women whose pregnancies were the result of sexual assault. None of them could get a termination in their public hospital. And that is because of the law,” said Kate Marsh.

White Ribbon Australia, a national organisation working to prevent violence against women, said it supports the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland partly because of the disproportionate impact that limiting availability has on women living with violence. It is also concerned that criminalisation is inconsistent with true gender equality and an infringement of women's reproductive rights.

“We know that unplanned pregnancy and STIs are more common among women experiencing domestic violence, and that contraceptive use can be severely compromised for some of those women,” said Christina Jarron, for White Ribbon Australia.

“Restricting access to abortion, including through continued criminalisation, is an affront to the personal integrity of women and endangers women’s health and wellbeing, which is why we’re urging the Attorney-General to delay no longer and to make the referral,” added Ms Jarron.

“Credible research, medical and legal peak bodies, service providers, and around 80% of the Australian population don’t believe abortion should be a crime. It’s time to act.”

Media contacts:

Michelle Bennett, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519

Photo: Shari Birse