‘I had an abortion and I have no regrets’

IT is less than 10 years since 19-year-old Cairns woman Tegan Leach found herself in court charged under section 225 of Queensland's Criminal Code for procuring her own miscarriage.

Her partner, Sergie Brennan, was charged with assisting her. Yes, at trial, they were acquitted. But the unarguable fact is abortion remains a crime in this state.

Why raise this now? Well, vanquished in the marriage equality battle, religious conservatives are massing on a new front. And so it came to pass that gun-toting, Christian soldier and National Party Senator George Christensen showed up at the annual 'March For Life' rally in Brisbane last month, proselytising against any effort by our evil state government to reform our abortion laws.

"We might even be seeing something that makes Victoria and the draconian regime they've got there look like a walk in the park," Christensen warned, apparently confusing draconian with libertarian.

Where we are at is the Queensland Law Reform Commission was tasked last year with "modernising" and clarifying the state's termination of pregnancy laws. Queensland and NSW are the only remaining jurisdictions where abortion is a criminal offence.

The ‘March For Life’ rally in Brisbane last month in opposition of reforming abortion law. (Pic: Annette Dew)
The ‘March For Life’ rally in Brisbane last month in opposition of reforming abortion law. (Pic: Annette Dew)

The commission's December consultation paper says there were 9926 terminations in private clinics and hospitals in 2016 and 492 in public hospitals, where most abortions involving foetal abnormality or maternal illness take place. These numbers, derived from Medicare data, are, in fact, swelled by women who, having miscarried naturally, may require the same surgical procedure.

Importantly, terminations at 20 weeks or more gestation, which can only be performed at particular hospitals, numbered just 140 of the total 10,421 ­- just 1.3 per cent. And while the total hospital terminations do not include those achieved by taking the abortion pill, this medication is only prescribed up to nine weeks gestation.

These figures should put paid to dishonest claims often thrown about whenever abortion law reform is raised that there are thousands of women queuing up to have late-term terminations of viable foetuses on spurious grounds, eagerly facilitated by amoral doctors.

The QLRC has until June 30 to present its final report.
Meanwhile, over in Ireland a hotly contested referendum is to be held in May on whether to remove the Eighth Amendment from that country's Constitution. Inserted in 1983, the Eighth, which prohibits abortion in almost all cases including rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities, was the outcome of an intense Catholic-powered campaign aimed at preventing the Irish courts from following international precedent, specifically the landmark Roe v Wade abortion case in the US. The Supreme Court of Ireland had, after all, shaken the Church to its core 12 years earlier by striking the first blow against the ban on contraception.

Just imagine being raped and impregnated by an abusive close relative and having no right to seek a simple, early termination where, if you do so and are prosecuted, you face 14 years jail. Where even if your own life is threatened by the pregnancy, you are tangled in an Act squarely criminalising abortion that provides only a couple of tightly worded exemptions. As a result, only about two dozen women a year have lawful abortions in Ireland, everyone else heads overseas.

Pro-choice supporters rallied in support of decriminalising abortion in Queensland last year. (Pic: Justin Brierty)
Pro-choice supporters rallied in support of decriminalising abortion in Queensland last year. (Pic: Justin Brierty)

But surely there's no parallel between Ireland's truly draconian anti-abortion laws and Queensland? Well, the fact remains that, for Queensland women, having an abortion is a crime also punishable by imprisonment - up to seven years, while defences for medical professionals rest, in part, on case law from the notorious 1986 Bayliss and Cullen trial wherein Judge McGuire warned of the "uncertainty" of present abortion laws.

I was around the same age as Tegan Leach when I had an early term abortion following an unplanned pregnancy. The decision was made after careful consideration, including consultation with family planning counsellors and my mother. As it was in the days before the abortion pill - and before the Howard government in the 1990s and 2000s disgracefully delayed its access here - I had a surgical procedure. I recovered quickly and had and have absolutely no regrets.

I was a fair bit older when I chose not to have an early term abortion following another unplanned pregnancy. By now I was a married mother of two but it happened at a time of great emotional upheaval and financial difficulty. In that instance, again after careful consideration, I continued with the pregnancy. Once more, no regrets.

These were informed decisions and, in this respect, I am surely no Robinson Crusoe among my fallible sisterhood.

Like around one third of Australians, I have no religion. I don't believe human life begins at conception but with consciousness, the capacity for which, I understand, does not begin to develop until the third trimester.

I accept the right of those whose objections are guided by or grounded in their religious beliefs to reject the notion of pregnancy termination. To them I say, go forth and procreate and good luck to you. But do not seek to foist those beliefs on others who do not share them - so our right, in this instance, to make informed choices about our own health and circumstances is not only denied but criminalised.

Ours is a secular state. Reform to Queensland's abortion laws is well past its due date.

Margaret Wenham is a Courier-Mail columnist and editor.

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