Words || Charisma Splits
The notoriously conservative sunshine state, Queensland, surprised the remainder of Australia this week by actively legalising abortion across the state. This is a big win for the state, but also for the nation, as the legality of abortion differs across all states.
In Queensland, termination of pregnancy has been classed as an ‘offence against morality’ under the criminal code. This is reflective of the conservative attitude that has permeated Australia across the last century and continues to exist in many ‘pro-life’ circles. However, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made her feelings clear in parliament, stating that the law was written before women even had the right to vote. “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”, she told The Guardian on the 17th of October, the day the parliament voted to support new legislation regarding reproductive rights. Both parties were granted a conscience vote, with the laws passing 50-41, with a ‘bold’ move from three Liberal National Party MPs – Tim Nicholls, Steve Minnikin and Jann Stuckey – breaking away from the formal policy of their party, which is in opposition to legal abortion.
The move to legalise is especially surprising coming from a state that has given us Pauline Hansen, Clive Palmer, and Bob Katter, three of the most conservative (read: also slightly crazy) voices in the current political climate. It also follows on from years of attempts to keep the legislation in action. Once women’s groups began marching for reproductive rights in the 1970s, conversations in parliament were opened up, but to no avail. In 1985, the National Liberal Queensland Government, then led by John Bjelke-Petersen went as far as to direct raids on abortion clinics and attempt to prosecute surgeons who practiced abortions.
This call, although unsuccessful, goes to prove an important point that is often highlighted by pro-choice activists: criminalising abortion will not stop it from happening. It will not necessarily lead to more births. It will, however, lead to more women seeking out unsafe abortions, carried out in secrecy, that could endanger their lives. This fact is often lost on pro-life circles and spokespeople, such as the Liberal National member for Kawana, Jarrod Bliejie.
“Killing a baby in 1918 is no different to killing a baby in 2018… If you don’t want to have a baby, there are options available for not getting pregnant…. But voting on a law that allows a mother and a father to terminate, to kill a child with a beating heart, up to nine months, is something I would never, ever vote for”, he publicly stated. Joke’s on him, the new laws will only legalise abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Sorry. My tasteless joke aside, abortion is a very testy topic, especially among millennials. However, as the world progresses slowly into a place where women are seen as equal to men, their right to bodily autonomy is moving more and more to the forefront of political discourse. Despite Bliejie’s belief that ‘if keeping it in the criminal code means … one baby is stopped from being aborted, then I think that’s good’. However, criminalising this medical procedure is probably more dangerous than decriminalising it, as women will often go to extreme measures to obtain an abortion.
Ireland’s campaign to ‘Repeal the 8th’ earlier this year saw many stories being publicly told about the measures Irish women would go to in order to abort unwanted pregnancies. They would travel for hours on buses or trains to get to London, where they could obtain a legal abortion, but often had to return the same day rather than rest after their procedures. This made the journey home quite perilous. A girl who was sexually assaulted at 14 spent the night in a ward post-procedure, telling the girls around her how she had been raped, but her family would not listen to her story of how she had gotten pregnant. Now nearing 40, she is unable to have children due to complications with the abortion she had to seek out due to illegality and stigma. She stated: ‘It’s not about abortion, but the right to choose what happens to your body. I did not choose to be raped, I did not choose to have an abortion’. In other stories, women whose babies were dying inside the womb, or would undoubtedly be incompatible with life post-labor, were denied access to abortion until the law was repealed.
Are these the type of stories we want for our country? Legalising abortion does nothing to distill the questions of morality that often surround the choice to terminate. I’ve known people to have abortions without a lot of thought afterwards, and I’ve known people to agonise over the decision, texting to tell me that babies have toenails by three months. And still, there’s a woman in Victoria challenging the safe access zones that keep protesters 150 metres away from abortion clinics. Kathleen Clubb was the first person to be convicted for breaking this law in 2016, when she ‘communicated about abortion to a person attending the clinic in a manner “reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety”’. She was fined $5000 for this breach, and is now bringing the case to the High Court.
Abortion is about a woman’s opportunity to choose a life she wants, that will not be affected by financial shortcomings, medical issues, or stigma perpetuated by people who shake their rosaries outside medical clinics. If you don’t believe in abortion, that is fine; all it means is that you probably shouldn’t go and have one. But you also shouldn’t judge a woman based on a situation you likely know nothing about.
Meanwhile, abortion remains illegal in the state of New South Wales, with the most recent political attempts to legalise falling short. I truly believe it’s time we follow in the steps of Queensland (can it get any more embarrassing?) and legalise this practice to save the lives and wellbeing of hundreds of women who currently lack the right to choose.