Queensland rejects moves to modernise abortion law

A Queensland parliamentary committee has rejected a proposal to bring Queensland’s abortion laws into line with clinical practice and common sense. At the same time the committee neglected to recommend a clear path for long overdue law reform.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie said it is unacceptable that abortion will remain a criminal offence in Queensland under provisions of the Criminal Code enacted in 1899.

“The Committee’s report is extremely disappointing. It leaves Queenslanders with abortion laws that are hopelessly outdated and out of step with community values and clinical practice,” said Ms Howie.

In a report tabled late last week, the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic Family Violence Prevention Committee recommended that the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 not be passed. The bill was introduced by independent member for Cairns, Rob Pyne MP and would have decriminalised abortion in Queensland.

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.

As well as considering Mr Pyne’s bill, the Committee was charged with making recommendations on options for reform regarding the law governing termination of pregnancy, including the need to modernise the law to reflect current community attitudes and expectations. However, the Committee did not make any recommendations for moving forward.

Ms Howie added, “If the parliament is not prepared to pass an abortion law in the form proposed by Mr Pyne, then it should demonstrate its commitment to women’s health and immediately take its own steps towards this long overdue law reform. Reform need not create a seismic shift, but it could ensure that the law properly reflects and provides certainty about the way that doctors currently treat their patients.”

Last week, Mr Pyne introduced a second bill into parliament. That Bill would put gestational limits on women’s right to choose an abortion at 24 weeks, create safe access zones around abortion clinics and provide for doctors and medical staff to conscientiously object to performing abortions. 

“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 second bill or by putting forward its own bill,” said Ms Howie. “How long do women need to wait for their basic medical needs to be met without risking a criminal prosecution?”

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