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Abortion Reform in Queensland: Rob Pyne's Loss is a Win for Women

Whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, Rob Pyne's withdrawal of his two ill-conceived abortion bills in Queensland is a win for women, the community and the rule of law.

The uncertainty and ambiguity pervading both bills led the LNP to confirm on Monday night that they would not be supporting them.

Despite being offered a conscience vote, and after discussing the issue at length, every LNP member indicated that they could not in good conscience support the dangerous and poorly drafted bills.

Rather than face defeat, Pyne withdrew both bills on Tuesday - the day before they were to be debated.

He had also been assured that the Labor Government would now refer the state's current abortion laws to the Queensland Law Reform Commission to provide advice that they would enact if re-elected. This move itself calls for scrutiny - whose bills were these really?

While some commentators are blaming the LNP for the bills' failure, the reality is that right from the start, Pyne displayed a shallow regard for both the legislative process and the real needs of women.

His first bill sought to remove abortion from the Queensland Criminal Code so as to permit abortion on demand, for anyreason, at any stage of pregnancy. This raised concerns about the late-term abortion of viable babies, prenatal discrimination on the basis of sex or disability, and how such a law would harm rather than help women. The bill amounted to a mere 53 words and contained numerous gaping holes, including basic regulation of the procedure.

The Parliamentary Committee rejected the bill, concluding that the policy to be given effect was not sufficiently developed, lacked rigour and foresight, and failed to meet its own objectives. It noted that this was further evidenced by the introduction of a second bill.

Pyne's introduction of a second bill - before the Committee had even released its report on the first - further demonstrated his flippant approach to the legislative process and was clearly an attempt to pre-empt the rejection of his first poorly conceived bill. Still falling far short of acceptable law making, it too failed to meet the satisfaction of the Committee.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Pyne's attempt at abortion law reform, it is that any legislative reform in this area must be both carefully conceived and genuinely pro-woman.

So what would such reform entail?

First, any legislative reform must include safeguards to ensure that women who seek abortions are giving fully informed consent. These include mandatory provision of information about risks, foetal development and alternatives to abortion, the opportunity to view ultrasounds and receive counselling independent of abortion providers, and the time and space necessary to make a decision. These safeguards are critical to ensure that women can make a real "choice" when it comes to abortion.

Second, such reform must also attempt to address the societal issues that might make women view abortion as their only choice. Women who abort often cite reasons such as fear of intimate partner violence, coercion from their partner or others, psychological pressures due to the pregnancy or otherwise, study and career pressures, and/or a lack of financial and emotional support. Abortion under these circumstances is not choice - it's desperation.

Instead of simply providing women with the so-called "choice" of abortion on demand, in an attempt to address the symptoms of their situation, any reform must strive to address the underlying causes of abortion and to provide women with positive alternatives that are not going to expose them to further harm. This includes addressing issues of domestic violence, access and affordability of childcare, flexible workplace and study arrangements and access to pregnancy and counselling support.

Finally, any legislative reform must include protections against social abortions, late-term abortions and abortions on the basis of sex or disability. Sex selective abortion in particular is something feminists on both sides of the political spectrum should be concerned about, as it is by and large females who stand to bear the brunt of discrimination, in keeping with international trends.

If the Labor government in Queensland is going to forge ahead with reform, it needs to address the real needs of women. Such legislative reform may require more reflection and effort than what Pyne gave to his abortion bills, but it would be much more likely to result in a state of affairs that truly promotes women's health and welfare. Women deserve no less.

Originally published on ABC, 2 March 2017.

Photo credit: Abortion Rethink


Rachael Wong
Rachael Wong is the Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy at Women’s Forum Australia.

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