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Should Abortion be Legalised in Queensland, Australia?

An argumentative essay by "Blade" for Year 12 Legal Studies in a High School in the State of Queensland within the Commonwealth of Australia.

Before we start, please be advised...

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This page is being kept online purely for archival and historical purposes. Legislation mentioned was current and in force at the time of writing, and may - or may not - have been changed or altered since then.

Table of Contents

[Hypothesis]   [Introduction]  [Definition of Abortion]

[The Social Issues underlying Abortion]

[Current legislation in relation to Abortion in Queensland]

[The Abortion Debate]   [Pro-Life (Against Abortion)]

[Pro-Choice]   [Recommendations]

[Conclusion]   [Bibliography]   [Appendices]

 

Hypothesis

The complex issue of abortion has plagued women (and men) around the globe for hundreds of years. This issue has been a bureaucratic hot potato and it seems the rights of women have largely been ignored in the creation of legislation in Queensland, and around the world.

Currently, abortion is only legal in Queensland if the life of the mother is in jeopardy. However, Pro-Life activists want abortion banned entirely, whilst Pro-Choice activists argue for abortion to be fully legalized. Although both sides of the spectrum have valid arguments, it can be questioned that legislation needs to change, to keep in step with our ever-changing society, and the rights of the female population.

Introduction

Discussion in this essay will show present legislation in Queensland, the arguments put forth by Pro-Choice (e.g. Children by Choice [CBC], http://www.childrenbychoice.org.au) and Pro-Life (e.g. Queensland Right to Life [QRTL], http://www.qrtl.org.au,) organisations, and recommendations to improve the current situation in Queensland today.

Definition of Abortion

Abortion can be best described as the expulsion (or removal) of an embryo or foetus from the uterus of the pregnant mother. There are two types of abortion. The first is "spontaneous abortion", or a miscarriage. This occurs when the mother's body expels the foetus, and can occur for many different reasons. It may occur when the foetus is not developing properly, or because of an illness. However, the cause is often unknown. According to statistics provided by Family Planning Queensland (FPQ) (http://www.fpq.asn.au/), one in every five pregnancies for women under 25 ends in miscarriage and this rate increases as women age. (FPQ).

The second type of abortion is "Induced Abortion", sometimes referred to as "Termination of Pregnancy". This is what people usually mean when they use the term abortion. This is the deliberate ending of a pregnancy, and can be performed in many different ways. The incidence of abortion is high in Queensland: according to statistics provided by the Health Insurance Commission ([HIC], http://www.hic.gov.au) on the Family Planning Queensland Web Site, at least 13 771 Queensland women had their pregnancies ended in 1998-1999. However, these figures do not include terminations performed in Public hospitals. (CBC)

Abortion itself can be quite disturbing. The most common method is used within the first trimester (twelve weeks) of pregnancy as and is called"Suction Aspiration". In this procedure, the cervix of the mother is forced open by inserting dilators (rods) of continual increasing size. A hollow tube, with a knife-edged tip (called a cannula) is attached to a very powerful vacuum cleaner and inserted into the womb. The child is then sucked out, along with the placenta. Another method used in this first trimester is the "Dilation and curettage (D&C)" method. This procedure involves dilating the cervix, and a curette or scraping instrument is used to scrape out the embryo, in pieces. All of the unborn child and the placenta must be removed or infection can result. Another method is the "Saline method", which is used within the second trimester. Some of the fluid in the womb is removed and replaced with a highly concentrated salt solution. The foetus then dies, and the mother immediately goes into labour. The mother delivers a dead baby. (QRTL)

A new method of abortion is by the use of drugs. An example of this is "mifepristone" or RU486, commonly called the "French Abortion Pill". RU486 trials have been conducted in Australia in Sydney (New South Wales state) and Melbourne (Victoria) in 1996, but RU486, along with any drugs used to induce abortion, have not been approved for use anywhere in Australia. (FPQ).

If qualified medical personnel, in hygienic conditions (e.g. a Hospital), perform abortion, then it is a simple, safe procedure. It is when abortion is performed illegally that the process becomes dangerous, and the mother may develop serious side effects, particularly if the entire foetus is not removed. According to FPQ, and Children By Choice (CBC), the rate of maternal (i.e. mother) deaths is far higher in countries with strict anti-abortion laws that in those where abortion is available legally. Women who do make the choice to terminate their pregnancies and who are supported in their decisions rarely suffer any adverse psychological effects.

The social issues underlying abortion

There are various reasons for women having abortions. Prevalent reasons include that the mother cannot afford to keep the child; having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; and that the mother is having relationship problems. Other reasons include that the pregnancy occurred as a result of rape (which is not as common as people are led to believe), that there are health problems with the mother or foetus; and that the pregnancy was unplanned because contraception failed (or was not used). In these situations, women generally have three options. They can continue with the pregnancy and keep the baby, they can continue the pregnancy and adopt the baby out, or they can have the pregnancy terminated. It is the later solution that attracts the most controversy in today's society.

Current legislation in relation to abortion in Queensland

The Queensland law with regards to abortion is contained in Sections 224, 225, 226, and 282 of the Queensland Criminal Code (QCC, or simply "The Code"), a statutory codification of the Common Law that had been adopted from the Hippocratic medical ethics of many centuries ago. The law prohibits abortion unless a mother's life is in immediate danger from the continuation of the pregnancy. This law has been obfuscated by Judges in the last 60 years, and thus has become unenforceable in today's society. No Court of Appeal in Australia has yet considered when abortion in any of the states in lawful, and in recent times they have repeatedly avoided doing so.

Extracts from the The Queensland Criminal Code

Section 224: Attempts to procure abortion.

Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for fourteen years.

Section 225: The like by woman with child.

Any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, or permits any such thing or means to be administered to her, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for seven years.

Section 226: Supplying Drugs

Any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person and thing whatever, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a women, whether she is or is not with child is guilty of a misdemeanour, is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for three years.

Section 282: Surgical Operations

A person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation on any person for his benefit, or upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother's life, if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient"s state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case.

[Direct Quotes from the Queensland Criminal Code
(http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au)]

The Abortion Debate

Abortion is a controversial topic about which wide ranges of opinions exist. Most fall somewhere the following two extremes. Women themselves have many different opinions.

Pro-Life (Against Abortion)

The Queensland Right to Life Society (QRTL) (http://www.qrtl.org.au) is one of the many organisations in Queensland committed to banning abortion entirely in Queensland (QRTL is also against euthanasia). The QRTL, along with other pro-life organizations, believe that a human being is alive from the moment of conception and therefore abortion constitutes to murder, or infanticide. That is, from the moment a sperm cell fertilises an egg, new life has been created and that the developing embryo is not only human but it also has legal rights, including the right to life. Pro-Lifers also believe that our society is grounded upon the principle that human life is sacred, and insist that no individual, no group of individuals, not even the State or Law itself has the right to take an innocent human life. The QRTL also believes that if abortion were to be made fully illegal, then the abortion rate would drop. Church groups, particularly Catholics, also lobby for abortion to be totally banned as it raises religious concerns. The following quote in taken off their web-site and explains this principle in Poland. (QRTL & Sandy Cummins).

"When effective legal restrictions are imposed upon abortion, the numbers drop off immediately and effectively. The outstanding current example is Poland, where since the passing of restrictive legislation in 1993, the annual abortion rate dropped from an estimated 500,000 in the 1980s to 792 for 1994. The tens of millions of dollars presently donated to the abortion industry would be utilised towards the upbringing of new generations of Australians".

(QRTL -
http://www.qrtl.org.au
).

Pro-Choice (Pro-Abortion)

The other side of the spectrum is Pro-Choice. Societies such as Children By Choice (CBC) believe that abortion should be a strictly personal matter and that a pregnant women has the right to decide for herself whether or not to have an abortion. This is because the foetus is in her body and she as the unexceptionable right to control her own body. Pro-Choice activists insist that this right entitle her to the succour and advice of her trusted friends and professionals. They also believe that the women should not be subject to interference from the state, or any other self-appointed "guardian" of public morality. In addition, they also argue that a pregnant woman has the fundamental right to easily access qualified professionals who are experts at performing abortions, regardless of the woman's ability to pay for the procedure.

CBC, along with many other Pro-Choice organisations, have provided women with counselling and information regarding the full range of options available to women in the event of an unplanned pregnancy (discussed in 2.1.0). The following quote was taken from the CBC web-site.

"Children by choice recognises that unplanned pregnancy is a reality of women's lives. No contraceptive method is 100% effective and many new contraceptive products are not available in Australia".

(CBC -
http://www.childrenbychoice.org.au).

Current legislation in relation to abortion in Queensland

The Queensland law with regards to abortion is contained in Sections 224, 225, 226, and 282 of the Queensland Criminal Code (QCC, or simply "The Code"), a statutory codification of the Common Law that had been adopted from the Hippocratic medical ethics of many centuries ago. The law prohibits abortion unless a mother's life is in immediate danger from the continuation of the pregnancy. This law has been obfuscated by Judges in the last 60 years, and thus has become unenforceable in today's society. No Court of Appeal in Australia has yet considered when abortion in any of the states in lawful, and in recent times they have repeatedly avoided doing so.

If Queensland bans abortion entirely, women who are desperate for abortion will go to desperate lengths to terminate their pregnancy, e.g. backyard abortion. This will inevitably result in the life of the mother being placed in jeopardy, as the person who performs the abortion will have no formal qualifications, little or no experience and poorly sterilised (if at all) equipment. Abortion clinics must stay open. The following quote was taken from Appendix 1, an article on the then Health Minister for Queensland attacking women's rights.

"Because of Queensland's highly restrictive abortion laws, 99% of abortions occur outside the public health system. Horan's [The Health Minister] desire to make private abortion clinics "a thing of the past" will mean a return to the deadly and traumatic days of backyard abortions."

(Green Left Weekly -
http://tinyurl.com/dwvyb)

Recommendations

Consider the following situations:

1. A sixteen year old female becomes pregnant after being raped.

2. A thirty year old single mother becomes pregnant after her contraceptive fails.

3. A pregnant twenty-five year old female discovers her foetus is deformed and will suffer major physical and mental problems if he/she is born, because she unwittingly took a poison that effects it.

4. A pregnant thirty year old female has been severely injured and her life is in serious danger if she carries until full term.

Under current Queensland law, the women in situations 1 to 3 cannot have an abortion, no matter what, although the women in situation 4 can. Unfortunately, these situations do happen in real life and these women cannot handle having a baby and looking after it.

The woman in situation 1 is simply not mature enough to handle a baby, and may not have enough financial support to do so. Additionally, the teenager may be reminded of her trauma with the baby.

The woman in situation 2 did not want her baby in the first place and cannot financially support her baby. She may have harsh feelings against her baby and the baby may suffer emotionally in the future.

The woman in situation 3 did want to have a baby, but due to an accident, that baby will suffer major problems and pain in her future. He/she won't be able to live a normal life and her parents may have trouble supporting her.

And all along, the woman in situation 4 can have an abortion if she so wishes and can try to have another baby at a later time.

It is because of the situations, and many others, that the law in Queensland needs to change to allow women to make their own decisions relating to abortion. However, what if these women try to terminate their pregnancy by their own means if abortion was not legal (see the quote in 5.2.2)? If a woman strongly opposes abortion, then she won't have one if she is in any of the above situations. Similarly, a woman who doesn't oppose abortion in any of the above situations will at least have the option to terminate her pregnancy. Her family, friends and counsellors will help her make an informed decision.

Since some of the women in these situations have financial problems, making abortion legal would only be the first step. Having abortion covered by Medicare would be able to make abortion more easily affordable to women who desperately need it. On that same token, abortion should also be available in Public Hospitals, not just in private clinics. Women could then more easily access abortion services, and be able to afford them, too. If this were to happen, abortion would be then available to everyone, regardless of marital status, age, background, religion, financial status and location.

Preventing pregnancy in the first place is also a major factor to abortion. After all, if a woman isn't pregnant, she won't need an abortion! As the possibility of pregnancy usually starts during puberty, Teenagers need to be better educated about pregnancy. Therefore, better "sex education" needs to be introduced in Queensland schools. And, if (or when) teenagers decide to have sex, hopefully they will use contraceptives. Contraceptives themselves need to be more readily accessible. The most common contraceptive, the condom, is perhaps the most effect type of contraceptive because it is easy to use, requires no medical supervision, and it inexpensive. Even though condoms are easily available at Pharmacies and Supermarkets, it can still be quite mbarrassing for someone to go in and buy some. So service station, bar, nightclub and some public toilets may have condom vending machines in them. Even though this reduces the embarrassing factor, these are the most expensive condoms to buy. Therefore, condom vending machines funded by the State Government (not fully, just enough to maybe half the cost) should be installed, not only in the aforementioned places, but also in Secondary School toilets and shopping centre toilets. This makes condoms far more accessible to people who need to use them, and thus, will not only prevent pregnancy from occurring in the first place, but will also help reduce the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, such as Hepatitis B & C, and HIV/AIDS.

Conclusion

Although abortion in Queensland is illegal under most circumstances, it needs to be fully legalised, to take in to account the rights of women, and to keep in step with our ever-changing society, along with the rights of the female population. Although abortion is still, and always will be, a complex issue affecting both men and women, can the government see the light and legalise it?

Bibliography

Children By Choice.
http://www.childrenbychoice.org.au
or http://www.powerup.com.au/~cbyc

Cummins, Sandy.
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~pjcsjc/intro.htm

Family Planning Queensland.
http://www.fpq.asn.au

Green Left Weekly.
http://tinyurl.com/dwvyb

Legal Aid Queensland.
http://tinyurl.com/8q688

Microsoft Corp, Inc. Microsoft Encarta 95. Microsoft, USA: 1994

Queensland Criminal Code.
http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au

Queensland Right to Life.
http://www.qrtl.gov.au

 

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