Bligh is a hypocrite on Queensland abortion law
In Cairns, a young Queensland woman faces the prospect of up to seven years prison for something that over 14 000 women do every year in this state alone - for having an abortion. Her partner faces three years prison for assisting her.
Once-was-feminist-campaigner and now Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh is at pains to try and convince us that the charges are not related to abortion, but rather to do with the way in which the abortion took place.
Premier Bligh has feigned concern about the case – “tragic” she calls it. The Premier is a hypocrite. Her government could act immediately to bring an end to the trauma that this young couple is facing. But not only have they refused to act – they have done everything they can to further add to the isolation of the young couple.
Let’s dispense with some of the misinformation.
Queensland Government ministers have repeatedly told the media that the case is related to the illegal importation of the drug allegedly used for the abortion. During the committal hearing, the Cairns Magistrates Court heard that the drug had been bought in through customs. It wasn’t stopped at customs because it is not a banned substance in Australia.
Premier Bligh has implied that the case is based on the safety concerns related to the drug being taken without medical supervision. There has been a great deal of misinformation and scaremongering about RU486. The fact is that the drug is very safe - the complications that can arise are similar to that of a spontaneous miscarriage.
The young woman had full instructions about the use of the drug. She had strong support from her partner and family and would have had access to medical facilities if complications had arisen – the same as anyone who has RU486 prescribed.
Premier Bligh’s feigned concern about women’s safety highlights her hypocrisy. She would be only too aware that criminalising abortion is one of the greatest dangers to women’s health. The Premier knows that the only way to ensure women’s safe access to abortion is to make it legal and free and have widespread woman-centered information and education services.
There has been much hand-wringing in the media by commentators who have argued that if the abortion had been had via the “normal” channels the couple would not be facing this ordeal. This blame-the-victim mentality is sickening, especially when it is being peddled by those who ostensibly support abortion rights.
Abortion is not easy to access – especially for young women in rural and regional areas. There is scant information available about abortion services.
There are the extraordinary costs – some abortion services in Cairns can cost upward of $800. There is the social stigma that society continues to impose on women who choose abortion – a very strong factor in a small town.
It is true that abortion is legally accessible – but let’s get the facts straight. Abortion is accessible under a common law ruling in 1986 that found that there were grounds for “lawful” abortion – when a woman’s life or mental health is at risk by continuing a pregnancy. This ruling was however explicitly against “abortion on demand”.
But abortion has effectively been available on demand through private clinics. Most people are not even aware that abortion is still subject to criminal law.
While it may have faded from popular memory, there are still many who remember the widespread social and political response to the abortion clinic raids of the 1980s. Indeed it was the opposition that was mobilised in that era that led to the liberalised access that exists today.
In prosecuting the Cairns case some think the Queensland Police can create a new precedent. They have prosecuted an isolated working class couple in regional Cairns in a case that does not involve a local doctor.
The Cairns case is based on the thoroughly reactionary nature of the anti-abortion laws. The young Cairns woman has been charged under section 225 of the Queensland Criminal Code which reads:
“Any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, or permits any such thing or means to be administered or used to her, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 7 years”.
Read the above carefully and then read it again. In the Cairns Committal hearing the police prosecution argued that it didn’t even matter that there was no proof that the woman was pregnant – because they argued that under the law a woman is “guilty of a crime” if she does anything “with intent to procure her own miscarriage” even if she is not actually pregnant at the time.
Abortion rights campaigners have argued for decades that the anti-abortion laws pose an ever present threat to abortion access. Our so-called friends in parliament have told us not to worry – that the laws are a dead letter and that we shouldn’t rock the boat.
Now the boat has been rocked by the Cairns case and a young couple are paying a high price for the unwillingness of Bligh and friends to stand up to the anti-abortion forces.
Many expected more from Bligh.
Bligh has deservedly become the target of the very protest movement which gave her a step-up into politics. This protest movement is determined to make it politically untenable for the government to maintain their position of inaction – the charges against the Cairns couple must be dropped immediately.
This time we will settle for nothing less than free, safe and accessible abortion on demand. No-one should ever again have to face the trauma of the young couple in Cairns are facing – for making a decision that is every woman’s right to choose.
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