Unlike the other states and territories, abortion is a criminal offence in New South Wales and Queensland, except under certain circumstances.
The doctor who provides the termination, anyone assisting and the woman herself could all be prosecuted under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) or the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld).
In NSW and Queensland, bills have been developed that, if successful, will lead to the decriminalisation of abortion in both states.
NSW Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi has drafted the Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016, which will repeal all criminal offences relating to abortion, introduce rules that clarify conscientious objection and provide for the introduction of exclusion or safe access zones for women entering clinics.
Queensland Independent MP Rob Pyne introduced the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill to parliament in May 2016. This bill will repeal all criminal offences relating to abortion. Pyne has also tabled a complementary bill to amend the health regulations relating to abortion. Both the Liberal National Party and the Labor Party have committed to a conscience vote on the bills.
Green Left Weekly’s Angela Walker spoke with Anna McCormack from the Women’s Abortion Rights Campaign (WARC) about the situation in Queensland.
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How long have WARC members been campaigning for abortion law repeal in Queensland and why do you think there is a chance this time around?
WARC has just reformed in response to Rob Pyne’s bills to decriminalise abortion in Queensland.
We are women who were active in abortion rights struggles in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s but haven’t really been active since those days.
We’re not young but we wanted to do something to support the current bills to take abortion from the Criminal Code. We looked around and found there was no grassroots, activist group for us to be involved in. There is a Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose group, and we commend them for the great work they’re doing, but we don’t fit “young”. So we’ve re-established WARC.
What would this change mean to Queensland women?
To decriminalise abortion in Queensland would be to make it clear once and for all that women who terminate unwanted, unplanned pregnancy are not criminals. No other medical procedure is criminalised and nor should abortion be.
It would improve access to abortion services, especially for particular groups of women: young women, poor women, women from rural and regional areas, women who have barriers in getting accurate, up-to-date information about abortion provision in Queensland.
Currently, because abortion is criminalised, it’s very difficult to get an abortion through public hospitals. To do so you need an advocate and you need to jump through hoops. This is because of the unclear legal situation.
Most women have to go to private abortion clinics that are located only along Queensland’s east coast so, for rural and regional women, travel is an additional burden both in time and cost.
You have held some public actions recently. How did they go?
To date, we’ve held one public action. It was a friendly picket of the Labor Women’s Conference on October 8. Our picket was to support Labor women to press their MPs to vote in favour of the abortion decriminalisation bills. The picket was organised by older women but a large number of younger women attended — it was a great show of intergenerational solidarity. A few of the Labor women also joined in on the picket before they went in to their conference, although a small number were also unsupportive.
What are your plans for the remainder of this year and the year ahead?
We’re planning a rally outside Parliament House at 12.30pm on Thursday November 3. Rob Pyne MP for Cairns, who has initiated the abortion decriminalisation bills, will be speaking. Other speakers include general secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions Ros McLennan and Olivia King from Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose. Ros will speak to abortion rights as a union issue and Olivia will focus on young people’s abortion issues.
We’re planning to write to all Queensland trade unions urging them to take up abortion rights as an industrial issue and to be an active part of our public community actions.
Following the November rally, we’re planning another Parliament House rally on Thursday December 1. We’re hoping a number of MPs who support the bills will speak briefly about why they will vote in favour. We’ll be working hard to encourage supportive MPs to do this.
We’re also keen to involve more activists, especially young women, in the campaign from November onwards.