Women Who Seek Abortions Are Not Criminals
At the end of May Australia watched in awe as one of the world’s most conservative countries, Ireland, voted in a landslide to repeal the Eighth Amendment and decriminalise abortion.
Weeks later and another conservative nation, Argentina, celebrated as its upper house voted in favour of also decriminalising abortion.
Argentina and Ireland are two of the most religiously conservative nations in the world, with Catholicism being by far and away the most prominent religion.
Yet in Australia, a proudly secular country founded on the separation of Church and State, we have watched as the world has passed us by on issues such as marriage equality and abortion reform.
Most people I speak to are shocked to hear that abortion is still in the Criminal Code in three States in Australia; South Australia, NSW and Queensland.
On Monday, the Queensland Government took a big step forward in rectifying this by releasing the Queensland Law Reform Commission’s report recommending an overhaul of abortion laws across the State. The Government coupled the release with an announcement that it would introduce draft legislation to do so in August this year.
Queensland’s announcement leaves South Australia and NSW behind in terms of law reform commitments. And the global campaigns to decriminalise abortion in the most conservative places in the world reveals Australia’s laws as starkly out-of-step with modern medicine and health care rights.
The global push to decriminalise abortion is not one that is focused on an ethical dilemma about abortion; nor should it be. Whatever your views on abortion, it is a deeply personal decision that a woman makes in consult with her doctor, and anyone else she chooses to bring into that decision. The reasoning is hers and hers alone.
At its heart, the move to decriminalise abortion is about the ability of someone to make a personal decision; albeit a challenging one; in privacy, with dignity and without fear of prosecution.
The laws that govern abortion in Queensland date back to 1899; in NSW to 1900 and in South Australia, the 1935 laws still allow for life imprisonment for a woman unlawfully seeking an abortion.
The argument that is often put forward during abortion law reform debates in Australia is that we do not need to change the law because it is still technically available. Technically available is not good enough because it does not remove the threat of prosecution.
Unless you are trying to get an abortion, you would not realise its precarious legal status in South Australia, NSW and Queensland. You are unlikely to know that the laws are a major barrier to procuring an abortion both in terms of stigma and the unwillingness of medical professionals and institutions to help for fear of prosecution.
Abortion reform can no longer be pushed aside as being too hard or too controversial. Classifying abortion as a crime is grossly outdated, unfair and out-of-step with the modern world. It is time for NSW and South Australia to follow Queensland’s lead in committing to abortion law reform.
In 2018, abortion should not be a crime; not here, not anywhere.
Michelle Thompson is CEO of Marie Stopes Australia, a national not-for-profit provider of sexual and reproductive health services. You can find her on Twitter @MichelleT_MSA