What it’s really like to get an abortion in Queensland

OFTEN women don't realise how difficult it is to terminate a pregnancy until they actually need to.

Kelly* was 37-years-old and married with three children on the night she was raped by a man who was not her husband.

"I just wanted to forget it ever happened," she says, explaining her decision to take the morning after pill the very next day.

Several weeks on, following a late period, Kelly bought a home pregnancy test. I cannot imagine the sense of dread she must have felt, taking that test in the dingy public toilet of the shopping complex. Positive.

"The news destroyed me," says Kelly. Timing meant that she knew the pregnancy was a result of the rape. Without question, Kelly wished to terminate.

She went to her GP who sadly informed her that he was unable to help. So Kelly went and saw another GP, who also had no assistance to offer.

The GP pulled out his mobile phone and showed the Google result to Kelly, before explaining that his hands were tied; abortion is a criminal offence.

Kelly finally located a service that would help her but was accosted by protesters outside the clinic. They yelled at Kelly and her husband, calling them baby killers.

She said of the experience "No woman who falls pregnant should have to go through what I did and feel like a criminal".

Kelly's story is a distressing one but her experience is not uncommon.

You see, Kelly is from Queensland, where abortion remains a criminal act.

This week the Queensland parliament decided not to debate a legal change that 80 per cent of the state's residents support. It isn't unusual for politicians to be out of step with public opinion but the scale of this particular misalignment is vast.

Legislation was introduced by Rob Pyne, an independent MP from Cairns, to remove abortion from the criminal code. Mr Pyne wanted to bring the rights of Queensland women to control their reproductive health into line with the law in other states.

For the most part people agree with him. Polling conducted for advocacy group Fair Agenda found that a massive 82 per cent of Queenslanders support a woman's right to choose. In fact, more than 40 per cent of Queenslanders didn't even realise abortion was still a crime. They just assumed it was legal.

And that's part of the problem.

Many Queenslanders, indeed many Australians, assume that the fight for safe and legal abortion has already been won. We watch arguments play out in the United States and around the world, shaking our heads and thinking tut, tut, lucky that isn't the case here. Except that it is.

Three statutes in the 1899 Criminal Code lay out penalties for women, doctors and support people. And while a 1986 court ruling is generally thought to allow doctors to perform abortions if the pregnancy is a threat to a woman's life, or her physical or mental health, doctors are still reluctant to provide them due to the legal risk.

Online there are hundreds of stories from Queensland women who have struggled to access safe termination of a pregnancy. These are women from all walks of life, aged from as young as 16 through to their late 40s. These women's circumstances and stories are as diverse as their ages.

Some relate incredibly dangerous efforts to end a pregnancy without appropriate medical care. Some talk about the humiliation and rage of being threatened by anti-choice protesters at clinics.

Others are frustrated and angry because they carried an unwanted pregnancy for far longer than they wished, unable to find a doctor who would perform the procedure.

One woman's pregnancy was diagnosed at the same time as her metastatic ovarian cancer. She couldn't proceed with the urgent chemotherapy and surgery until the pregnancy had been terminated. However the hospital couldn't provide the termination.

So this extremely sick woman had to remove herself from the expert medical supervision at the hospital, be discharged and obtain the termination elsewhere. It was dangerous and nonsensical, not to mention incredibly distressing for the female patient.

The legislation introduced by Mr Pyne split the Queensland parliament in two. Labor MPs, who are guaranteed a free vote on the issue by their party platform, were expected to vote overwhelmingly in favour. However the Liberal National Party released a statement at the last minute saying that all of its members would vote against it.

Realising the amendment was now destined to fail, Mr Pyne withdrew the bill and so the vote never happened.

Now, there were some concerns among members of the major parties that the legal drafting of the amendment wasn't quite right. Some were worried they might serve to make the legal status of women and doctors more uncertain.

Yet regardless of the technical merits of the Mr Pyne's legislation, there was nobody proposing a positive alternative. Neither major party is saying "this time it isn't quite right, so let's work on it until it is". The political appetite to make a change that the vast majority of Queenslanders support is pretty much nil.

So instead the issue has been brushed aside for yet another election cycle - possibly longer - and it will be Queensland women who pay the price of their elected leaders' lack of political will.

*Name has been changed.

News Corp Australia


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