Queensland should seize historic moment to reform abortion laws

Queensland has an historic opportunity to bring its abortion laws into line with clinical practice and common sense, the Human Rights Law Centre told Queensland parliament this week.

In a submission to the Queensland parliament’s inquiry on the Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016, the HRLC urged Queensland to get behind Rob Pyne MP’s two private members bills that together would decriminalise abortion and ensure that abortion is both safe and accessible.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said, “It is unacceptable that women and their doctors still run the risk of prosecution for procuring or providing a safe medical procedure; a procedure that is provided every week in Queensland and across Australia. The law is hopelessly out of step with clinical practice and community standards.”

Queensland and NSW remain the only two states in which abortion has not been decriminalised, either in whole or in part.

“Whilst other states and territories have sought to modernise their laws, Queensland is now lagging well behind on providing women access to safe and legal abortion services,” said Ms Howie.

Queensland’s Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee is currently inquiring into the Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill, the second abortion-related bill introduced by independent MP Rob Pyne. Mr Pyne’s first bill, the Abortion Law Reform (Women’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 decriminalises abortion. The HRLC previously expressed its support for that bill.

The Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill allows for the creation of safe access zones around clinics to prevent the harassment of staff and patients by anti-abortionists.

“Women should not walk the gauntlet of harassment and intimidation in order to see their doctor. Anti-abortionists have a right to hold and express their views, but it must be done in a manner that respects women’s rights to privacy, dignity and safety when seeing their doctor,” said Ms Howie.

The bill also allows doctors to conscientiously object to providing abortion services. Ms Howie said that conscientious objection provisions are important, but they ought to balance the right of doctors to their views with women’s rights to access the medical treatment they need. Doctors should therefore be required to refer women seeking an abortion to doctors who do not have a conscientious objection.

Ms Howie added, “The bill currently goes too far in favouring doctor’s objections over women’s medical needs. Whilst we support doctor’s rights to object to providing abortion services, patients should not be disadvantaged by the individual ethical, religious or moral objections that some medical practitioners may have to abortions.”