Queensland anti-abortionists go on the rampage

Issue 

Queensland anti-abortionists go on the rampage

By Kamala Emanuel and Robyn Marshall

COOLUM — Queensland National Party MP Fiona Simpson has said she will bring a private member's bill to limit late-term abortions. The threat follows anti-choice protesters' actions against the Abortion in Focus conference held here November 12-15.

Anti-abortionists demonstrated outside the conference venue and called on the state government to take a harsher stand on late-term abortion. Prior to the conference, they had pressured the federal government to refuse visas to US doctors who perform abortions late in pregnancy.

Two of these doctors, Suzanne Poppema and George Tiller, were coerced into signing restrictive statements at Sydney airport, under threat of having their visas withheld. A third, Warren Hern, was detained by Immigration Department officials for the same purpose but was released after refusing to sign.

Abortions are "late term" when the foetus is more than 20 weeks old. Because abortion is still illegal in Queensland, there is no maximum period of gestation or limit on when abortion can be carried out.

Hern, who has preformed many late-term abortions in the US, said there was no medical, scientific or public health justification for laws against abortion. "This is really, almost fundamentally, not about abortion but about power, about who's got it and who wants it. The issue is who gets to make the decision about abortion."

In fact, very few late-term abortions are carried out, less than 1% of all abortions, because a "woman does not choose to have an abortion because it is fun. It is a very traumatic decision", said Hern.

Cait Calcutt, of Brisbane's pro-choice activist group and abortion referral centre Children by Choice and the national coordinator of the Abortion Rights Network of Australia (ARNA), told Green Left that banning abortion after 20 weeks' gestation would be trying to provide a simple answer to a complex issue.

Calcutt said, "We need to look at why women are presenting for termination of pregnancy at that late stage. There are many reasons, often including misdiagnosis earlier in the pregnancy."

Attempts to restrict third-trimester abortion must be seen as the "thin edge of the wedge", she said. While enabling women to access services sooner is important, defence of such services as exist is a must.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has responded equivocally to the call for restrictions. He is on record as stating, "Politicians should butt out of the debate on late-term abortions", and yet has also expressed personal opposition. He has requested a submission from his department on the issue.