Queensland parliament should seize the opportunity to modernise abortion laws

Queensland must reform its outdated abortion laws, the Human Rights Law Centre said in a submission to the Queensland Parliament’s inquiry into abortion law reform. The HRLC called on the Queensland government to decriminalise abortion and ensure women can safely access abortion services.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said it is unacceptable that abortion remains a criminal offence in Queensland under provisions of the Criminal Code enacted in 1899.

“Queensland must seize this important opportunity to bring its abortion laws into the 21st century. Laws criminalising abortion are hopelessly out of step with community values and deny women their basic rights to non-discrimination, health and privacy,” said Ms Howie.

The Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 was introduced by Rob Pyne MP after a 12-year-old girl was required to go to court in order to satisfy a hospital that the abortion was in her best interests.

In Australia, abortion is only a criminal offence in Queensland and New South Wales. Under the Queensland Criminal Code (sections 224-226) women and doctors can be jailed for having or providing abortions “unlawfully”, but the Code does not define “unlawful.” In 2009, a Cairns couple were charged under Queensland’s abortion laws.

Ms Howie said that women in Queensland run the real risk of criminal prosecution simply for making medical decisions about their own body.

“This Bill, which would strike abortion from the Criminal Code, is an important first step in the process of law reform,” Ms Howie added. “However, more needs to be done in order to ensure women can safely access abortions. We need to ensure that doctors with a moral, ethical or religious problem with abortion refer women to other doctors who do not hold such objections. The law should also create safe access zones around abortion clinics, to protect staff and patients from intimidation and harassment from anti-abortionists.”

The Parliamentary Committee is due to report on 26 August 2016.

The HRLC’s submission is available here.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy and Research, Human Rights Law Centre, 0421 370 997

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