The Queensland government is set to introduce draft legislation into the state’s Parliament this month that would decriminalise abortion and allow women to safely access the procedure.
The reform would remove abortion from the state’s Criminal Code, in place since 1899, which stipulates any woman who illegally has an abortion in Queensland can be sent to prison for up to seven years, and that anyone who unlawfully performs an abortion can be jailed for up to 14 years.
The draft legislation will enter Parliament this month ahead of debate in October, with the Labor government signalling it will give its MPs a conscience vote on the contentious issue.
Under the proposed laws, pregnancies will be allowed to be terminated in the first 22 weeks, and thereafter with the permission of two doctors.
Other clauses include doctors being able to object to performing the procedures on moral grounds, while a 150-metre safe access zone will be implemented around abortion clinics to block protesters from approaching entrances.
If the new Bill passes through Parliament, abortion will no longer carry the threat of jail time and instead be considered a health issue.
The overhauling of abortion laws was triggered by a Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) review, which recommended legalising the procedure in Queensland.
Abortion in Australia is subject to state law, with every other state bar New South Wales having removed abortion from its Criminal Code.
The Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) made a submission to the QLRC review that stated women should have access to legal and safe abortion, counselling services before and following a termination, and information and services to support adoption or maintaining a pregnancy.
It has also recommended the Queensland government, together with the federal Department of Health, implement a broad female sexual and reproductive health strategy that includes access to education, services and counselling.
Following last month’s announcement, the QNMU backed the Queensland government’s decision to legalise abortion, with Branch Secretary Beth Mohle agreeing the draft legislation would support the health and wellbeing of women across the state and protect those who performed and assisted in the procedure.
“The QNMU believes women should have access to legal and safe abortion and that the legalisation or regulation will help reduce harm to the individual and those who perform or assist with the procedure,” Ms Mohle said.
Ms Mohle acknowledged a range of views existed on whether abortion was ethically acceptable and asked members to respect the union’s position.
“We ask that those with a different view also respect ours.”
Queensland’s historic move was welcomed by the Human Rights Law Centre, which said the development offered an opportunity to bring the state’s abortion laws in line with “contemporary medical standards” and “modern community values”.
The not-for-profit organisation protects and promotes human rights in Australia and pointed to polling in Queensland in 2017 showing more than 80% of people supported a woman having the right to terminate her pregnancy in consultation with a medical professional.
“It’s absolutely shameful that in 2018 a woman and her doctor can still be imprisoned for seeking a safe medical procedure,” Adrianne Walters, a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said.
“Criminalising abortion just causes confusion and fear. It forces women to travel interstate or risk unsafe clandestine abortions. The law should support all people to make the best possible medical decision for their health.”