She is young and has run away from her violent partner. He was abusive and threatened to “run her off the road”. She’s couch surfing at friends’ houses. She’s discovered she’s pregnant.
Another woman was abused as a child. Her life became a cycle of homelessness, drug abuse and domestic violence. Her contraception has failed, she’s also pregnant.
A third arrived in Brisbane, after travelling hundreds of kilometres from a small regional town. She has five children. She can’t afford to support one more. She found out she is pregnant and she’s desperately trying to save money in time for a termination.
In Queensland, these women are at risk of being sent to jail, convicted as a criminal, if they terminate their unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is included in the criminal code, which means it can only be lawfully undertaken if there is serious danger to the mother’s life or her physical or mental health.
Patients can undergo an assessment at a public hospital to see if their situation “meets the legal requirements”. Only then, will the hospital terminate the pregnancy.
The penalty for not meeting the “legal requirements” and terminating a pregnancy can be up to seven years in prison for the woman involved. Fourteen years for the doctor.
Tomorrow, two bills to legalise abortion will be debated in Queensland’s State Parliament. The LNP and Labor leaders are preparing to allow their MPs a conscious vote on the issue, meaning they don’t have to follow the party’s stance on the issue.
The first of the bills seeks to remove abortion from the criminal code. The second proposes some regulation around who can perform a termination; an allowance for doctors to conscientiously object; and allowing abortions to be performed when a woman is more than 24 weeks pregnant if two doctors agree it’s in the best interests of the patient’s health.
As the law stands, Queensland women can only access abortion through private clinics. This costs anywhere between $400 and $600 for a medicinal abortion, and up to several thousand dollars for a surgical abortion, according to pro-choice organisation Children By Choice, an organisation that helps provide financial assistance for women seeking abortion.
“The situation is so absurd that we have women turning to us for financial assistance because current laws make it almost impossible to get the help they need at public hospitals,” said Amanda Bradley from Children by Choice. “This has a particularly stark impact on women in rural and regional areas where access to health care is already more limited.”
The public support for the bills has been massive.
A survey from Fair Agenda, an organisation promoting fairness and equality for women, showed around 82 per cent of Queenslanders are in favour of decriminalising abortion.
A preference hopefully reflected by their elected representatives in tomorrow’s conscious vote.
“Queensland’s current laws are a hundred years out of date and out of line with community values,” Executive Director of Fair Agenda, Renee Carr, said. “This polling confirms that Queenslanders want better.”
“To continue to deny women the legal right to make decisions about their own fertility and health is totally unacceptable,” Carr continued. “The polling results show it also politically untenable.”