The decision to terminate a pregnancy is not an easy one to make.
But it’s a decision women in Queensland can now make without the risk of being sent to jail.
Yesterday, Queensland parliament passed laws to finally make it legal for women to have abortions up to 22 weeks’ gestation. The historic moment leaves New South Wales as the only Australian state where abortion remains illegal.
Queensland women allowed to choose
The decision to let women make this choice about their bodies is a big one, with commentators suggesting it brings Queensland into the 21st century. The abortion laws in Queensland have been set in stone for 119 years, way before women were even allowed to vote.
Under the Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018,
- Women can now terminate a pregnancy up to 22 weeks’ gestation on request.
- Terminations after 22 weeks are allowed with the approval of two independent doctors.
- Termination and fertility clinics will have ‘safe access zones’ of 150 metres. This is to prevent protesters approaching and hassling women and their families.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the landmark Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018 gives women access to services – and lets health professionals provide these services – without fear or stigma. Politicians from all parties were allowed a conscience vote.
“History has been made” she tweeted. “Women will no longer have the fear of committing a crime when making the deeply personal decisions over their own bodies.”
I’ve always believed a woman should be able to talk to her doctor about her own health and her own body without it being a crime,” – Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath echoes this notion:
“We’ve done this for our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our friends. For women who have fought long and hard for the right to autonomy over their own bodies.
Termination is never an easy option for any woman, and no one ever makes this decision lightly, but all women across Queensland should have the right to make the decision for themselves and without fear of criminal prosecution.” – Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath
It took two days of debate to reach the verdict with 50 votes for and 41 votes against. Interestingly enough, of the MPs who voted against it, six were women. The other 35 no voters were men.
Abortion no longer a crime
Before the Pregnancy Termination Act of 2018, a woman who unlawfully had an abortion in Queensland could be sent to prison for up to seven years. Anyone who unlawfully performed an abortion in Queensland could be jailed for up to 14 years.
Abortion was only allowed in certain circumstances – if a doctor believed a woman’s physical and/or mental health was in serious danger. Rape, incest or foetal abnormality did not fall under this category.
Before yesterday’s historic vote, most women having a medical abortion in Queensland were breaking the law. And most likely without even realising it.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, who voted for the changes, told reporters she doesn’t expect a voter backlash, even though pro-life groups have vowed to go after MPs who supported the abortion bill.
“The majority of Queenslanders, the majority of people right throughout our nation just think that this is something that is a health issue between a woman and her doctor,” she says.
“If there are people who don’t believe in abortion, they shouldn’t seek an abortion but for those who need to have an abortion because of a whole range of circumstances they shouldn’t be deemed criminals for having done so.”
Half the abortions for unplanned pregnancies
Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Roger Faint said, “In Queensland we tend to turn a blind eye … but it shouldn’t be a case where you’re potentially subject to the criminal code.”
He says at least half of the abortions performed in Queensland were for unplanned pregnancies in young women.
“It [was] really unfortunate that a young girl might [have been] charged under the criminal act. That shouldn’t be the case.”
And now, for the first time in close to 120 years, it’s not. Whether you’re for or against the new act, it’s certainly a historic moment for Queenslanders. Now, the question remains, will New South Wales follow suit?
For a personal look at the abortion debate, read this heart-wrenching article about a mother who decided to terminate her pregnancy.
(Top image source: Pro Choice Queensland/ Facebook)