Fact check about proposed abortion laws in response to Sunday Mail column

Lauren Martyn-Jones in her column in the Sunday Mail yesterday accused Cherish Life Queensland of conducting a “fear campaign” using “convenient exaggerations” and “corrosive” and “disturbing mistruths” to create a “false perception” about the abortion bills before the Queensland Parliament.

As journalists who “report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential… relevant available facts” irrespective of your “personal… belief”, you no doubt would be interested in the following fact check:

Decriminalising abortion through the first Pyne Bill Abortion Law Reform (Woman's Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016, which would repeal Sections 224, 225, 226 and 282 of the Queensland Criminal Code, by definition would leave a vacuum, which would allow, as our ads say, abortion “at any stage” and “for any reason”. The Queensland Parliament Health Committee inquiry into the Bill unanimously recommended in its Report dated 26 August 2016 that the Bill not be passed.

On 17 August, 2016 (before the Health Committee had handed down its report on his first Bill), Mr Pyne moved a second private member’s Bill, the Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016. This Bill sought to put some provisions into the Health Act to regulate abortion. This Bill also was referred to the Health Committee for an inquiry, and the Report which was released last Friday stated that “the committee was not able to reach agreement on whether or not the Bill should be passed”. It is reasonable to conclude that neither Pyne Bill is fit to be passed by Parliament.

In her article, Ms Martyn-Jones quoted from Section 21 of the second Pyne Bill, entitled “Abortion on woman more than 24 weeks pregnant”, which gives the impression that there would be an effective gestational restriction on late-term abortions. This is not the case. Unfortunately, Ms Martyn-Jones omitted this note at the end of the section:

A failure by a doctor to comply with this section does
not constitute an offence but may constitute behaviour
for which action may be taken under the Health
Practitioner Regulation National Law (Queensland),
Part 8 or the Health Ombudsman Act 2013” (emphasis added).

In other words, it would not be a crime for a doctor to kill a viable unborn baby. If the doctor ignored this provision, he or she would receive no penalty other than potentially a slap on the wrist by a disciplinary body. A law without consequences is no law at all.

So this provision is just a con job to trick the public into thinking the legislation would protect viable babies. It is window dressing to pretty up the first extreme Pyne Bill.

In any case, the requirement that abortions after 24 weeks have to be approved by two doctors is just a sham and a facade, as the second doctor is not required to see or speak to the patient, or even look at her file. Also, the second doctor does not have to be independent, so in the event that a late-term abortion took place in a private hospital or clinic it could be that the two doctors who would profit from the procedure would approve the late-term abortion – an obvious conflict of interest.

In the absence of an effective and enforceable gestational restriction such as the provisions in the failed Infant Viability Bill 2015 in Victoria, it is entirely reasonable for Cherish Life ads to state that the Pyne Bills would legalise abortion “up to birth” and “at any stage of pregnancy”.

As for our claim that the Pyne Bills would legalise abortion “for any reason”, there is no question whatsoever about the truth of this statement before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

After 24 weeks, the second Pyne Bill says that a doctor must believe “that the continuation of the woman’s pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman than if the pregnancy were terminated.”

This a greatly watered-down test compared with the current law, which allows abortion only if it is “necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth) which the continuance of pregnancy would entail”.

As many doctors accept the official position of medical professional bodies that “abortion is safer than childbirth”, contrary to the evidence of numerous research studies, it would be very easy for them to justify an abortion “for any reason” if Pyne’s second Bill was passed. In addition, in any case, the current 24 week rule may as well not be there, given it would not be an offense if it were disregarded.

According to the Sunday Mail article, AMA Queensland says that late-term abortions are not a frequent occurrence and… it “does not expect that this would change to a significant degree if this Bill were to be passed by the Parliament”.

The Queensland Parliament Health Committee inquiry heard expert evidence from Queensland Health that 112 late-term abortions (past 20 weeks of pregnancy) had been performed in public hospitals and 18 in private hospitals or clinics in 2015 – a total of 130. These were abortions which met the current test for a “therapeutic termination”, as opposed to 10,403 abortions for financial or social reasons which private clinics reported that year.

It is of interest to note that Victoria, which decriminalised abortion in 2008, reported 358 late-term abortions in 2012-13 (the latest year for which we have figures), exactly half of which were for foetal abnormality and half for “psycho-social” reasons.

The fact is that if the Pyne Bills are passed, Queensland public hospitals would have to do abortions for any reason, including late-term abortions for “psycho-social” reasons.

Former director of maternal and foetal medicine at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and now an obstetrician in private practice who performs mid-term abortions, Dr Carol Portmann, told the Health Committee inquiry into the first Pyne Bill that in the event of decriminalisation she expected the proportion of all abortions performed by public hospitals to rise from the current 2% to “20 to 25%” of the total.

Over time, Queensland Health would abandon its current “health culture” and replace it with a culture that abortion is “part of routine medical care”, according Dr Portmann.

Inevitably, the overall number of abortions would increase as a result of this free service, and due to the fact that whenever something is legalised, the incidence of it always rises, as the law plays a role in educating the community regarding moral values (think pokies and brothels).

Ms Lauren Martyn-Jones, who says she doesn’t agree with gender selection abortion, apparently concedes that the Pyne Bills would legalise this practice, but justifies this on the basis that “it already occurs in Queensland right now.”

The Cherish Life gendercide radio ad justifiably confronts people with the inconvenient truth that abortion “for any reason” means legalising the killing of unborn baby girls, just because they are female.

The price of endorsing decriminalisation of abortion is that one ends up supporting abortion for reasons that almost every Australian would find abhorrent, such as gender selection.

We know that gender selection abortions do occur in Australia, due to a demographic study using ABS data from 2003 to 2013 which was originally reported by SBS in 2015 showing “1,395 missing girls”. See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3203013/Gender-selection-abortions-happening-Australia.html

Also, in 2013 Dr Mark Hobart of Melbourne faced disciplinary charges for refusing to refer a couple for a sex selection abortion in Victoria. See http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/doctor-risks-his-career-after-refusing-abortion-referral/news-story/a37067e66ed4f8d9a07ec9cb6fd28cf5

As to whether the state’s abortion laws meet community expectations, a comprehensive Galaxy poll in May 2016 found that 42% of Queensland voters thought the current law was “about right” and 11% thought it was “not restrictive enough” – making 53% who were opposed to making abortion laws more permissive. Furthermore, 85% of Queenslanders are opposed to abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy, and 72% are opposed to abortion past 13 weeks. See What Queenslanders Really Think About Abortion.

For more information, please contact:

Julie Borger
Cherish Life Queensland
Email [email protected]
Mobile 0412 692 343

Chris Da Silva
Director of Communications and Marketing
Cherish Life Queensland
Email [email protected]
Mobile: 0433 775 429