UPDATED: The couple facing jail because they tried to ‘procure an abortion’. Hello, Queensland? It’s 2010.

UPDATE: From the SMH

A Cairns couple charged over a home abortion have been found not guilty.

….Under Queensland law, abortion is illegal except to protect the mother’s life or her physical or mental wellbeing.

However, in his final directions to the jury, Judge Bill Everson said they had to be satisfied the drugs were noxious to Ms Leach’s health, rather than the foetus.

As you read this, a 21 year old woman and her 22 year old boyfriend are facing the prospect of jail because they didn’t want to have a baby. I have written about my thoughts on pregnancy termination many times and it is no secret that I am pro choice (not pro-abortion because I contest that such a thing doesn’t exist).

Like so many women and men, I am appalled at the stance the Queensland Government has taken in relation to a young couple who have been charged. This charge comes under a draconian section of criminal law  NOT for importing a prescription substance (RU486) but for “procuring an abortion”.  Let’s think about that for a moment. This young, frightened couple have been charged with seeking an abortion. Wait, is this 2010? In Australia? You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, particularly since some of the Queensland abortion law was written in 1899 and has not been ammended since.

Writer, researcher and MM contributor Nina Funnell writes…

“Today, a young Cairns couple go on trial charged under the archaic abortion section of Queensland’s criminal code with procuring an illegal abortion. If found guilty, the young woman could face up to seven years in prison, and her partner could face three years.

Reading about their experience threw me back to a recent phone call from a rather distressed friend. He and his girlfriend had left Sydney to move to Queensland for work. After arriving they discovered that she was pregnant.

They had discussed the situation at length and both were in firm agreement that they wanted to terminate the pregnancy. Neither one felt that they were emotionally or financially ready to have a baby. Nor did they feel comfortable with adoption. After considering their options, the girlfriend stated that she wanted to use the termination pill, RU486, and her boyfriend supported this decision.

Sergie Brennan and Tegan Leach.

Her reasons were well thought through and logical. She did not want an invasive procedure requiring a general anaesthetic, and its associated risks. She wanted to terminate her pregnancy in the privacy of her own home. She wanted to spend as little time in surgery rooms as possible.

But both of them were feeling scared and uncertain of how to go about acquiring RU486 and this is why he had called me. He had a series of questions.

Is RU486 a banned substance in Queensland? No, it is not. Is it possible to get a prescription for it? Yes, it is. Is it safe? RU486 is safely used in 35 countries around the world, including Australia.

Only, here is the thing. In all of Queensland there are only four practitioners who are authorised to supply RU486. In all of Australia there are only 81 individuals who are authorised to supply RU486.

It is not always easy to find out who these practitioners are, as only some doctors will provide a referral. They do not advertise their services widely as they do not want to attract the ire of anti-choice activists. And even if a woman can find one of these practitioners, it is not always possible for her to take the time off work, and find the necessary resources required to travel to one of these four practitioners.

In the end, my friend and his girlfriend decided to fly back to NSW where they were able to see one of the 33 authorised practitioners in that state who provided them with a prescription.

Their experience highlighted two things for me. Firstly, it reminded me of how frustrating, baffling and opaque the health system can be for people trying to access a termination.

Secondly, it reminded me that like women, men can find the process of seeking out a termination incredibly distressing, overwhelming and at times, rather scary.

Protesters at a rally held in Brisbane

Today, Australian women who have medical abortions may still suffer physically and emotionally. They also cop a lot of judgment and are forced to deal with a certain level of stigma.

But it would be a mistake to assume that men do not face any emotional or legal risks around abortion.

In the case of the Cairns couple, it has been alleged that on discovering that the young woman was pregnant, the pair requested that RU486 be posted by a family member from overseas.

Premier Anna Bligh’s government has repeatedly told the media that the case is not about abortion but the illegal importation of RU486.

While it is true that it is unlawful to import RU486 — or any other approved medication — without a prescription, it is not a criminal offence to do so. In fact the medication in question was declared and passed through Australian customs because it is not a banned substance here.

Contrary to the rumors, the couple have not been charged in relation to importing a substance. They have been charged under Queensland’s anti-abortion laws.

It is absolutely astonishing that in Queensland, and elsewhere around Australia, abortion is still a criminalised offence. These parochial laws need to be repealed immediately.

And men should join women in this cause. After all, this is not just about a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body. Men are at risk too. Aside from the young man being charged in this case, male doctors in various parts of Australia also risk being charged under anti-abortion laws.

In 2006, for example, a jury convicted a doctor over an unlawful abortion in NSW after finding the doctor guilty of two counts of unlawfully giving abortion drugs to a woman in May 2002.

As for the Cairns’ case, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were still living in the 1950s. No doubt the couple must be terrified. Hopefully they will be treated compassionately.”

There were rallies in support of the Cairns couple held around the country on the weekend, and if you are outraged by this case, you can sign a petition here, 44, 788 people have signed the petition to show their solidarity with the couple.

Okay back to 2010 -what are your thoughts? Should a 21 year old woman go to jail for seven years for choosing not to have a baby?