Matters of Public Importance - Abortion

The Greens will tell you that this motion, which makes reference to the pending Queensland abortion bill, is just about taking abortion out of the Criminal Code, to make it a health issue. There could not be a more dishonest smokescreen for the most radical liberalisation of abortion laws in this country. And here's why it's dishonest. There are many reasonable people who would agree with the notion that this is a sensitive issue that shouldn't be dealt with as a crime. But those same people would abhor the full reality of this bill if they were told the whole truth. That very unpalatable truth is that this bill facilitates abortion, not just in the early stages of pregnancy and not just when it's necessary to save a mother's life but all the way up to a child's due date. It facilitates the termination of children capable of survival outside of the womb. Even the most liberal-minded Queenslanders would be horrified by that prospect. But framing the matter as mere decriminalisation gives barbarism the cloak of civility.

As a society, we, quite rightly, pour resources and expertise into ensuring the viability of babies that arrive prematurely. If this bill passes it will allow termination of children well beyond that gestation point; in fact, right up to full term. It defies logic. Right-thinking Queenslanders are horrified by this prospect. So let's not pretend this is simply about moving this out of the Criminal Law. No woman has been convicted under the Queensland law for decades. Abortion is already available in circumstances of physical or medical need in Queensland. In truth, this bill is a palatable Trojan Horse inside which is hidden the most brutal abortion laws in this country.

The Queensland bill provides for abortion on demand, which means without the need for explanation, justification or medical need, up to 22 weeks gestation. But for pregnancies after 22 weeks, the sign-off of two doctors will be required, only one of which needs to see the mother in person. The doctors must determine the mother's physical, psychological or social interests. You'll note that the needs of the child are irrelevant. How can they properly determine the mother's physical, psychological or social interests? One can only imagine what constitutes a situation adverse to one's social interests. It would be a tragedy to see children losing their lives in favour of a parent's right to socialise. Clearly, the considerations made by the doctors are not merely the health of the mother, balanced against the health of a child.

Further, this bill provides no protections against abortion coercion—a manifestation of domestic violence in which a woman is forced to terminate a pregnancy by a family member. The Greens speak loudly against domestic violence in other contexts, but why not in this one? The bill doesn't allow any cooling-off period for a woman or a couple that seeks an abortion. It makes no requirement for a mother to undergo counselling before making a decision of this nature, despite the substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that, in some circumstances, serious psychological harm is inflicted by abortion upon mothers and fathers, particularly in circumstances where it is late term.

If we were really serious about women's empowerment, we would be offering a real choice to women and full information about the options available with time and counselling to support that choice—support to raise a child, even in unplanned circumstances; and support to deliver a child for adoption to one of the thousands of Australian families seeking to adopt in circumstances of their own infertility.

The bill will also enable abortion for the purposes of sex selection. It smacks of a repugnant treatment of children as accessories for adults rather than lives with their own inherent value. Further, there are no protections for the child, not even pain relief for the child being terminated, despite the abundance of evidence that late-term abortions are excruciating for the child. You want to talk about antiquated practices: well, to me, this sounds antiquated.

If we're going to talk about antiquated concepts, then let's talk about the criminal regulation of our fundamental right to free speech, religious freedom and conscientious objection that the Queensland bill will introduce. It harks back to pre-enlightenment days. The Queensland bill would establish a 150-metre exclusion zone around abortion clinics in which it would be an offence for a person to engage in conduct that relates to terminations or could reasonably be perceived as relating to a termination. Such a loose description of what is to constitute prohibited conduct puts at risk a fundamental human right to engage in free speech. For instance, prohibited conduct would not be limited to what might be seen as something reasonable like stopping harassment, abusive speech or demonstration; it would also include benign actions such as respectful conversation, provision of an information leaflet or silent prayer.

More concerning yet is that the proposed 150-metre exclusion zone would be subject to extension at the discretion of the minister. I'm deeply concerned about a minister being given unfettered discretion to declare zones the size of their choosing around abortion clinics that threaten to criminalise even the most respectful of debates around this theme. How many turned-back mothers, as they're sometimes called, would be at risk of never knowing their child under such a change? If you wanted evidence that freedom of speech was under fire in this country, you don't need to look any further.

It's ironic that these changes have been put forward under the guise of complying with international human rights obligations. Since when has it been a norm of international human rights to declare speech on a controversial topic squashed in favour of a confected human right to readily access abortion clinics? Some further try to say that abortion is a matter of women's human rights as though somehow the right to terminate a child would make us more liberated. What a false promise that is. It's about time people started thinking about what the real human rights at stake are. The fundamental human right to life is set out in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the most important of human rights laws, and it is very clear:

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.

Yet, further impinging on the freedom of Queenslanders would be the draft bill's effective abolition of medical practitioners' right to conscientious objection. While a doctor retains the right to refuse to perform such a procedure, they are nevertheless obliged and forced to refer a patient to another practitioner who is willing to do so. One would wonder if a doctor were to advise against an abortion yet be compelled to refer a matter on, would they be at risk of breaching the zone of silence if their practice is located in the same hospital or facility as an abortion clinic? Doctors who refuse to so refer in other jurisdictions have been referred for disciplinary action by their profession. It will disproportionately impinge upon the freedom to conscientiously object against doctors in rural and regional areas too, because there are fewer doctors available for referral.

We invest years training our doctors, teaching them to heal and save lives. Then these laws would ask them to kill babies and end their careers if they refuse.

I leave you with this thought: when we believe in a woman's right to control her body and that she deserves this right no matter where she lives, we must give her that right, even if she's still living inside her mother's womb. This is not progress and it is neither pro woman, pro child, pro family nor pro freedom.