Most of us have had a scare at some point. A moment when we’ve wondered ‘what will I do?’
For some of us, it turns out to be a false alarm – and we get on with our lives, breathe easy again, and feel lucky to not have to make that choice. However, between a quarter and a third of all Australian women do make that choice at some point in their lives.
For a woman in Queensland, that choice could be considered a crime. In 2017.
Because in Queensland (and in NSW) abortion is still in the Criminal Code.
In Queensland, archaic abortion laws mean that a woman and her doctor can be criminally prosecuted and face jail time for accessing or providing an abortion – except if it’s performed to prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health.
These laws date from 1899 – and they’ve been a looming threat over Queenslanders ever since. In fact, they were used to prosecute a couple less than ten years ago.
These out-dated laws mean women seeking abortions are frequently turned away from their local public hospital – and have to struggle to find and fund an appointment with a private clinic or one of the small handful of GPs that can distribute RU486, the medical abortion drug. These are all safe services, and trained providers, but they don’t come cheap. In fact, a woman in need could be looking at anywhere up to $3000 depending on where and when she needs to access the service.
It’s a system that especially punishes regional Queenslanders, who might have to travel for hours to find a provider, and sometimes have to wait weeks for an available appointment. No exemptions are made for women with pregnancies resulting from sexual assault or domestic violence, who are often put through increased – and totally unnecessary – anguish at an already hard time in their lives.
It affects people like the mum living in a domestic violence refuge with her children, pregnant as the result of her partner’s sexual violence against her. She was desperate, and contemplating self-abortion, yet still couldn’t get the help she needed at a major hospital. Or the woman who was told her baby had multiple extremely serious illnesses, and thought she would have to “carry my baby full term and watch her suffer and die”.