Inquiry report ‘shows decriminalisation must lead to increase in abortions’

The Queensland Parliament Health Committee’s abortion inquiry report clearly shows that the number of abortions must rise if the laws were removed from the Criminal Code, according to Cherish Life Queensland.

The report stated: “Submitters suggested that criminalisation of abortion leads to inequity, as the current laws result in access to services being constrained by geographic location and access to resources.

“Submitters argued that criminalisation of abortion can obstruct services and disproportionately impact on women who are already disadvantaged–such as those who are young; experiencing poverty, violence or mental health issues; live in rural, regional and remote locations; and often Indigenous women who do not have access to such services. (Eds: Page 29)

“Some clinicians reported that the availability of termination services in Queensland, from both public and private sector providers, is adversely affected by the current law.” (Eds: Page 72).

The report quoted the Australian Centre for Health Law Research: “Making the procedure lawful is likely to increase its availability in public health services, therefore increasing access to more women.” (Eds: Page 81).

Yet submitters also argued that “decriminalising abortion does not lead to an increase in abortions and could lead to a decrease. It was argued that there is no correlation between the legality of abortions and the number of abortions performed in any given jurisdiction.” (Eds: Page 30).

“The committee did not pick up on the obvious point that abortion advocates cannot have it both ways,” Cherish Life Queensland president Julie Borger said.

“The inevitable outcome of decriminalisation allowing free abortions on demand in public hospitals will be an increase in the number of abortions performed and the number of women hurt by abortion.”

Mrs Borger welcomed the recommendation of the Health Committee that Independent MP MR Rob Pyne’s Abortion Law reform (Woman’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 not be passed.

The reasons for this recommendation were that the policy to be given effect by the Bill was not “sufficiently developed”, lacked “rigour” and was not “coherent”, and the Bill failed to achieve a number of its stated objectives:

  1. Preventing a repetition of the 2010 Cairns court case where a young couple was charged with illegal abortion after ordering an abortion drug from overseas on the internet and then self-administering it without medical supervision – as this would still be illegal under other sections of the Criminal Code.

  2. Preventing a repetition of the recent “Q” case in central Queensland where a hospital sought court approval of an abortion on a 12-year-old girl, as it would still be necessary even with decriminalisation to seek court approval for young girls who not competent enough to make their own decision.

Highlights of the 117 page report included:

  • The committee conceded that “a foetus may have some rights as a potential person” (Eds: page 23), but quoting the European Court of Human Rights it said that these must be “limited by the mother’s rights and interests” (Eds: Page 24). Mrs Borger commented: “Of course, we know that the unborn child is a person with potential, not a potential person, and that the right to life of a pre-born child must take priority over his or her mother’s right to the pursuit of her goals or needs as they exist at the time. The right to not be killed supersedes the right to not be pregnant.”
  • The committee has accepted the opinion of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that “abortion is safer than childbirth” (Eds: Page 40). The report also stated that “it is clear that there is no established causal relationship between abortion and mental health outcomes” (Eds: Page 58). Yet it quoted a pro-choice obstetrician/gynaecologist who strongly supported prevention strategies as saying that  “termination of pregnancy should however be a rare procedure as it is traumatic for the women involved and staff providing the service” (Eds: Page 52). Mrs Borger said the truth on the physical and psychological risks of abortion to women could be found at
  • The committee seemed to accept highly questionable evidence from the UN Women National Committee Australia that “sexuality education does not hasten sexual activity, but has a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, and can delay sexual debut” (Eds: Page 54). “In fact, sex education without values is likely to be an incitement to experimentation by young people,” Mrs Borger said.
  • The report reveals that case law in Queensland does not recognise the concept of parental consent for girls under 18. Either they are competent and can make the decision themselves, or a court has to decide (Eds:Page 13).  The Australian Centre for Health Law Research called for this to be “enshrined into legislation” (Eds:Page 61). “The 75% of Queensland voters who believe that parental consent should normally be required for girls under the age of 16 will be horrified to learn that parents have no rights at all to protect their daughters from the harm of abortion,” Mrs Borger said. “
  • Far from enshrining current case law into legislation, Parliament has a duty to pass laws to restore rights to parents to make life-changing health decisions in the interests of their under-age daughters.”
  • The committee stated that Professors Heather Douglas and Caroline de Costa had “identified a practice in Queensland… where doctors manufacture mental illness to justify a lawful abortion in accordance with section 282 of the Criminal Code”. (Eds: Page 64). “This confirms what we already knew that the vast majority of abortions in Queensland are performed unlawfully,” Mrs Borger said.
  • Griffith University Professor of Medical Ethics Eleanor Milligan amazingly was quoted in the report as saying: “Criminalising termination of the pregnancy is not protective of the rights of the foetus” (Eds: Page 81) and “... the interests of the foetus are better served through decriminalisation and the implementation of appropriate medical care within a culture of transparency and reflective practice”. (Eds: Page 82). “So the unborn child is better off dead?” Mrs Borger asked. “How ludicrous! Such incoherent thinking from a highly-paid professor of ethics in a taxpayer-funded institution! This would be laughable if it were not so sad.”
  • The committee seemed to recognise the importance of independent counselling and informed consent, citing Queensland Health guidelines stating that the counsellor should have “no vested interest in the pregnancy outcome” and that informed consent counselling involves ensuring the patient understands “the nature and method of the procedure” and the “risks and complications” (Eds: Pages 84-85). “Of course, in the vast majority of cases, this is not happening,” Mrs Borger said. “Women are not making a free and fully informed choice. The true risks of abortion are being kept from them and they are not informed of the development of the unborn child.”
  • In the report, the committee gave a number of options besides the status quo, one of which was the removal of Section 225, the penalty on the woman. It also raised the possibility of passing the buck by referring consideration of abortion law reform to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. Pleasingly, the committee stated regarding the decriminalisation option that it “considers that simply removing offences from the Criminal Code, without some level of regulation, is inconsistent with community expectations. While professional standards and guidelines provide some protections, further regulation would be consistent with community expectations.” It hinted that its final recommendations from the new inquiry into Mr Pyne’s second Bill would supporthealth legislation dealing with a late-term abortion time limit, conscientious objection, safe access zones around abortion facilities, data collection and counselling services for women (Eds: Pages 77-78). Mrs Borger said it should be noted that if the late-term time limit was effective and informed consent counselling was truly independent and mandatory, this would be a great improvement on the abortion law we have now. “However, despite the fact that the committee has recommended against it, there is a real danger that the first Pyne Billto remove abortion laws from the Criminal Code, or a new Bill to decriminalise abortion, could be supported by a majority in Parliament if voted on together with any health legislation which would emerge from the committee process.”

The Health Committee is conducting a new public inquiry into Mr Pyne’s second Bill, the Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016. The deadline for submissions is 6 October and the committee will report to Parliament no later than 17 February, 2017.

Mr Pyne has stated that he hopes both of his Bills will be debated together.

Mrs Borger encouraged pro-lifers to continue to lobby their MPs and to make a submission to the second inquiry. “If the bulk of the submissions are pro-life, this could have a bearing on the committee’s view of community attitudes,” she said, adding that information on how to do this could be found at