By Anna McCormack
BRISBANE — Fifteen months after the election of the first state Labor government in 33 years, women's abortion rights are still outlawed, termination of pregnancy being the only medical procedure controlled by the Criminal Code.
Queensland Labor policy, adopted in 1988, is clear on the question of abortion: it says, "A Labor government shall amend the law so that all legal distinctions between termination of pregnancy and other medical procedures should be abolished by repealing sections 224, 225, and 226 of the Queensland criminal code".
Despite this pledge, last August Premier Wayne Goss announced that the abortion issue was not on his government's agenda, and that, if it ever were, Labor MLAs would vote according to their "consciences", not necessarily according to ALP policy.
In January, Goss attempted to argue for the maintenance of anti-abortion laws by claiming that proponents of repeal did not have specific proposals.
Yet less than a year earlier, the Children by Choice Association had sent every MLA, including the premier, a 14-page submission proposing the removal of abortion laws from the criminal code.
At that time, in May 1990, Goss refused to meet with Children by Choice representatives. Last month, Goss again refused, twice, to meet with Children by Choice to discuss the details of the association's submission.
In February the Women's Legal Service in Brisbane also presented a detailed submission proposing abortion law repeal.
Also the lie to Goss' claim that women's groups don't have specific proposals is the presentation to him, in 1990, of two other significant documents sent by Children by Choice.
The first was a paper prepared by the South Australian Health Commission which indicates that law reform, as opposed to law repeal, actually results in a more restrictive situation for women. This finding is consistent with the arguments advanced by the Australian women's movement for the past two decades.
The second document, sent to the premier and all other state MLAs, contained the results of the most recent survey of Queenslanders' attitudes to abortion.
This survey, carried out by AGB McNair in May 1990, indicated clear support for abortion law repeal. Sixty-six per cent of Queenslanders believe abortion laws should be repealed. Support for repeal is strongest among Labor voters at 76%. Majority support for repeal is also apparent across all major religions, with 56% of Catholics in favour.
A 1986 District Court case liberalised the abortion situation but did not establish women's abortion rights. Although four abortion clinics now operate in the state — two in Brisbane and one each in Townsville and Rockhampton — abortion remains a criminal offence.
Women and doctors are still vulnerable to prosecution, depending on the priorities of the state government of the day.
In January 1991, the state minister for family services and Aboriginal and Islander affairs, Anne Warner, assured Queenslanders that the state's anti-abortion laws would not be enforced.
This is simply not good enough. Unwanted pregnancy is a crisis in a woman's life, and that of her family. Women seeking abortions do so in a climate of uncertainty, secrecy and fear because they suspect they may be breaking the state's laws.
Many doctors, also uncertain of their legal position, are reluctant to refer women for abortion. Others, ideologically opposed to women's abortion rights, use the unclear legal situation to justify their refusal to refer.
Outlawing abortion does not stop it, but radically changes the situations under which women obtain abortion. While in Queensland, and the rest of Australia, anti-abortion laws create uncertainty and increase trauma, in the Third World the same laws mean that a woman dies every three minutes as a result of illegal botched abortion.
The Labor party in Queensland has been intimidated into inaction by a powerful minority which is ideologically opposed to extensions to women's rights. International Women's Day 1991 is a time when Queensland women might usefully consider our future role as electors.
Anna McCormack is a Brisbane women's movement activist currently employed as a political action worker by Children By Choice.