Abort the laws

Sweden, 2008

One day, in my last year of high school, one of the nurses from the local youth clinic* came to class to promote the clinic’s services. She was, in every way, a large woman with dark features and a deep, firm voice. She had no accent but her aura screamed Eastern Europe, so no one was surprised when she introduced herself as Olga.

* free drop-in reproductive health and counselling services for everyone under 25 years, i.e. where you go to pick up free condoms. Bless socialism.

After introducing herself, Olga raised her index finger, stared us all in the eyes (all twenty of us at the same time, quite an achievement) and said loudly:


“There is ONE thing the boys here need to realise, and that is that THE ONLY TIME you can decide NOT to be a dad is when YOU PUT THE CONDOM ON because after that it’s HER body and HER decision and that’s the end of it.”

I can’t say Olga’s presentation style in any way made me keen to later contact her for a gynecological exam, but she did teach me how important it is that women have the full right to their own bodies, and for that I am forever grateful.

Even if Olga was talking about the choice of having a baby, her argument can also be used when discussing abortion. The topic has been a hot one in the media since April when a 12-year-old had to go to the Supreme Court for permission to terminate a pregnancy. In the beginning of May, independent MP Rob Pyne lodged a bill to the state government to legalise abortion in Queensland.

That’s right; “legalise abortion”. We’re not talking about sub-Saharan Africa, we’re talking about Queensland. You might not have known that abortion is illegal in the Sunshine State, and neither did I. It doesn’t say on Queensland.com that 12-year-old girls have to go through complicated legal processes to end pregnancies. It doesn’t say on Queensland.com that the state’s sexual education is so bad that 12-year-olds don’t know that pregnancy is a very likely outcome of sexual intercourse between a boy and a girl.

Queensland abortion laws have had little change from the 1899 Criminal Code, which has the same wording as the 1861 English Act. This means that Queensland abortion laws are old British legislations, and were established 40 years before Australia was even a nation. It should probably be mentioned that the laws have since changed in the UK, where abortion has been legal since 1967.

There are exceptions to the QLD laws, and requests of termination can be approved if a general practitioner deems the pregnancy to be of life-threatening risk to the woman, physically or mentally. No one has been prosecuted since 1986, but we can, every now and then, see women or couples being brought to court to be made an example of. The latest case saw a Cairns couple charged for medically terminating a pregnancy with pharmaceuticals imported from Ukraine.

Abortion is provided in Queensland at private clinics and day surgeries thanks to some hero-GPs that basically risk their license by frequently recommending abortion for women whose lives really wouldn’t be at risk with an unplanned baby.

So if abortion is available in practice, what’s all the fuss about? Is it just some kind of feminist principle?


Of course it’s feminist principle, because as Olga explained to us earlier: it’s the woman’s body and the woman’s choice and that’s the end of it. However, there’s no need for any Clementine Fords to drive the arguments for legalised abortions, as there is enough evidence out there to prove the negative impacts of the current laws.

First of all, only three abortion clinics in Queensland are situated north of the Sunshine Coast. There are none in rural and remote areas. These areas also have poor access to education about contraceptives, so you can guess where a lot of unplanned pregnancies happen. Sadly, there is also a higher than average incidence rate of sexual assault in these regions, which often leads to unwanted pregnancies.

Then there’s the cost. Only 1% of Queensland abortions are carried out by public health facilities, and thus covered by Medicare. First trimester terminations require and out-of-pocket cost of between $470 and $950. Add to that, travel expenses and loss of income for women outside South East Queensland, and you can leave a woman struggling financially for a long time. If she was raped by an abusive partner or family member, the likelihood of her accessing money in the first place is very low.

The go-to argument for pro-choicers (that I just used) is rape, because it’s strong enough to work on even some of the most religious pro-lifers. You gotta be real heartless if you legit think a woman should have her rapist’s baby. And if you believe that your god thinks she should, I’d seriously consider changing gods. Even though it’s a relevant and valid argument, it shouldn’t be necessary to say “but what if she was raped?” every time you discuss abortion with a PCP*, because not every unwanted pregnancy comes from unwanted sex.

* Privileged Conservative Person

Humans are super fertile. Women pop one egg per month, and the act of fertilising that egg is one of many people’s favourite activity. Producing children like Fords on an assembly line was beneficial for the species back in the days when 2 in 5 children would die before before the age of 5, and the average life expectancy was 35. We live our lives differently today and Australia’s child mortality is only 4 in 1000, and the average life expectancy is 82 (these figures will be a lot better when the gap is closed). Planned parenthood is one of the keys to a functioning society, but no contraceptives are 100% effective. The World Health Organization has estimated that even if all needs for contraception were met, and all users followed the instructions properly, there would still be 6 million accidental pregnancies worldwide every year.

Whilst former Minister for Women* Tony Abbott has referred to abortion as the “most


convenient exit from an awkward situation”, the issue is more complex than that. Queensland abortion laws are are an outdated contributor to social injustice, and the need for change is apparent.

*no joke.


Originally published at The Isthmus.

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