Once again, Queensland’s politicians have squibbed the opportunity to decriminalise abortion. For more than 40 years, activists have been campaigning to remove sections 224 to 226 from the Criminal Code. They make women having an abortion, doctors performing one or anyone who assists a women to have one, subject to criminal charges. Jail terms of up to seven years are prescribed.
These laws have been on the books since 1899. Abortion is the only medical procedure that lies within the Criminal Code.
Labor is just as culpable as the LNP for this state of affairs: it has held office for 22 of the last 27 years.
The latest opportunity for decriminalisation came with two bills put forward by independent MP for Cairns Rob Pyne, which would have struck abortion off the Criminal Code and put in place various measures supporting women’s rights to access safe abortion free from harassment.
The LNP, true to form, decided in caucus to vote as a bloc to reject the bills. The ALP, however, allowed its members a conscience vote. This meant the almost certain defeat of Pyne’s bills because Labor holds only 42 seats out of 89 and governs with the support of three independents, including Pyne.
The Palasczcuk government convinced Pyne to withdraw his bills in return for the attorney general referring the matter to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. This puts the issue off potentially for 12 months and makes decriminalisation subject once again to Labor winning office with a sufficient majority to push it through. Neither of these are guaranteed.
Prominent Labor supporters of decriminalisation such as deputy premier Jackie Trad claim that withdrawing the bills was better than seeing the issue defeated in parliament. That is crap. Labor has never put forward a bill to decriminalise abortion even when it held majority government, sometimes with majorities of 2 or 3 to 1.
The ALP, with its conscience vote, allowed its hardened bigot parliamentarians to block what is Labor policy, decriminalisation. The party would rather keep them happy and avoid a fight with the hard right religious bigots and Catholic hierarchy than keep the faith with the 80 percent of Queenslanders who support legal abortion.