Abortion in Queensland – is it what you think?

12 08 2009

If you criminalise abortion, what do you expect will happen?

(The Australian) TEGAN Simone Leach was 19, pregnant and “scared” when her boyfriend’s sister arrived in Cairns last Christmas Day with a consignment of contraband tablets and doctor’s instructions written in Ukrainian.

What transpired after Ms Leach allegedly terminated her pregnancy with the abortion pill RU486 and the Queensland police got involved, has unleashed a legal and political storm of the like not seen before in this country.

Ms Leach will face court next month charged with the crime of procuring her own miscarriage, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind to be brought under Queensland’s century-old abortion laws.

If convicted, she faces up to seven years’ jail.

The young man in her life, Sergie Brennan, 21, faces up to 14 years’ imprisonment for attempting to procure an abortion and three years’ jail on a further charge of supplying the means to procure an abortion. [more]

As expected there is quite a lot of anger coming from liberal left sector – with the launch of the Pro-choice Action Collective in Queensland. They have a facebook group and a website. But is this the right case to be defending?

The about section of the Collective’s website has information on the current status of abortion availability in Australia:

Currently South Australia is the only Australian state where women can access free (bulk-billed) abortion, at a Pregnancy Advisory Centre (a free-standing clinic in the public health system, where 85% of abortions in SA are carried out). In other states, the cost of abortion has risen sharply over recent years since Tony Abbott, the Howard government’s health minister, brought about changes to interpretation of Medicare and bulk billing in 2005.

In Queensland, the cost of an abortion ranges from around $260 up front (for concession cardholders in Brisbane) to $810 in Cairns for abortions under 12 weeks. The costs rise steeply every two weeks after 12 weeks gestation. Only $260 is available on the Medicare rebate — around $100 less than for comparable operations. In NSW costs have increased since the closure in 2002 of the Bessie Smyth clinic, the only feminist-run abortion clinic in Australia. The policy of Bessie Smyth — never to turn a woman away — kept pressure on other providers to keep costs low.

The Collective seems to be making that this case will see a return to backyard and underground abortions (which are quite dangerous) – but the problem is that this couple have been charged because that is exactly what they did. They did not go to a professional doctor to undergo assessment and procedure. What the police allege is that they got someone to illegally smuggle in a drug (that does not seem to be illegal in at least some parts of Australia*) and then took it without appropriate medical advice.

There are likely a host of underlying factors that led them to taking this course of action – lack of information on choices, local access to abortion, upfront costs, travel charges, social stigma – and addressing these issues – particularly in remote Australia – are possibly much more important targets rather than a law against “unlawful abortions” which could be interpreted as having the exact same goal that the Collective is trying to achieve (though I think that interpretation factor may also be another issue that the Collective should target).

A question for the collective might be, should underground abortions be illegal? And if so, what should happen to women who procure them?

The Pro-Choice Action Collective has a benefit gig on tonight at the Garden’s Point QUT Guild Bar, as well as protest rallies in Brisbane over the coming weeks.

*This may be only as responses after this case

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4 responses

12 08 2009
PCAC

The Bligh government and media have used the facts of this case to create a distraction from what is really at issue. The couple have been charged under the anti-abortion laws – laws that should not exist. Premier Bligh has claimed that they would have been charged even if those laws did not exist – how absurd! How could anyone be charged under non-existent laws?

Your article fails to address the most important question – how does charging a woman for having an abortion increase the safety of abortion? It doesn’t – the anti-abortion laws are already one of the biggest factors in the misinformation about abortion and the problems of access. If the charges against the Cairns couple are upheld, this situation will get immeasurably worse.

You write that backyard abortions are “quite dangerous”. What an understatement! In the 1940’s “backyard abortions” were the second most common reason for maternal death in this country. Today, around the world a woman dies every 8 minutes because of complications arising from unsafe, illegal abortion. Between 2 and 7 million women every year are suffer permanent disease or injury because of complications arising from unsafe, illegal abortion.

Making abortion illegal and inaccessible kills women.

If the QLD government were genuinely concerned about the safety of women they would repeal the anti-abortion laws and ensure free access to abortion services and information for all women.

12 08 2009
zayzayem

If backyard abortions are dangerous how should we discourage them?
What should happen to women who undertake backyard abortions?

It is very likely if abortion-related laws did not exist this couple would be charged with something if the police allegations are to be believed. They were trafficking a controlled (not illegal) substance. If you went overseas and got chemotherapy, brought it into the country illegally and distributed it, you would be committing a crime. That is not the same as chemotherapy being illegal.

It is important when challenging serious issues that you look at it from all angles and make sure that the stance you are taking will result in an outcome that is actually aligned with your desires.

13 08 2009
A Free Man

I think that the SA model is both the safest and the most sensible. But then I come from the country in which abortion rights is a huge issue. The only valid opposition to abortion is a religious one and I don’t think those are particularly valid. It comes down to the woman’s choice and that should be the end of it.

17 08 2009
zayzayem

There is no question in my mind that abortions should be covered under Medicare bulk-billing. It would be the most effective way at protecting women’s safety and ensure they receive the care and attention they require.

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