Queensland abortion laws could spark court battles
A KEY committee has warned Queensland MPs about supporting controversial changes to Queensland abortion laws, saying they could end up in court battles.
The committee, which includes Sunshine Coast MP Mark McArdle, said the legislation proposed by Cairns MP Rob Pyne remained ambiguous and open to interpretation on what was a very sensitive issue.
It is the second of two Private Members' Bills put forward by Mr Pyne as part of an attempt to decriminalise abortion in Queensland.
The latest bill also includes provision for late term abortions, after 24 weeks, with the consent of two doctors.
It also bans anti-abortion protesters from within 50 metres of abortion clinics.
In the Statement Of Reservations, three LNP MPs (Mark McArdle, Mark Robinson and Sid Cramp) flagged uncertainty in the final outcome of the bills when voted on in parliament.
They state "Though Bills that become Acts of Parliament may end before a Court for interpretation a Parliament should not pass legislation that it knows may or will raise questions of interpretation.
"The role of the Parliament is therefore to strive is [sic] to pass cogent legislation that is drafted in clear and unambiguous language and not inconsistent with other legislation."
The MPs conclude "The point is - has the legislation covering this very sensitive and emotional question been drafted in a manner that should be before a Parliament and is the process in which we are about to engage correct?
"We have a responsibility to pass clear and unambiguous legislation. We do not believe we are at that stage."
Cherish Life Queensland president Julie Borger said "It is clear that neither of these bills are in a fit state to be passed by the parliament. They are extreme. They are a mess. They should either be withdrawn or voted down immediately."
Experts told MPs that if the second Bill passed but the first did not, it could actually make it more difficult in Queensland for a women to have a termination before 24 weeks gestation than after 24 weeks, the Courier-Mail reported.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday said she has concerns with Mr Pyne's second Bill.
Ms Palaszczuk said abortion should not be in the criminal code but conceded she had issues with some aspects of the proposed abortion reforms.
"I do hold that view, however, I do have some concerns about the second Bill so I will have to have a look at that at the same time," she said.
Both Bills will be debated together in parliament on March 1.
Labor has promised its MPs would have a conscience vote on both bills, while LNP MPs will examine the committee report before deciding how to vote.
Cherish Life says it has received independent legal advice from a constitutional law expert that the "protected area" provisions are in conflict with the Australian constitution.
Even family members trying to dissuade someone from proceeding with an abortion would be at risk of arrest and prosecution.
The pro-life group says that in addition to the submissions against the second Pyne Bill, there were also 31,735 signatures on the official parliamentary petition against the bill. This brought the total signatures against the two bills to 55,604.
Abortion laws in Queensland: Will they go too far?
QUEENSLAND abortion rights advocates and those fighting to protect the rights of unborn children are set to barrage MPs in the lead-up to a vote on a contentious bill next month.
Cherish Life, a group opposing changes to abortion laws in Queensland, has written to churches urging members to write to and meet with their local MPs to 'protect Queensland women and their unborn children from the tragedy of abortion'.
It says more than 30,000 have signed a petition against the laws, while an estimated 4000 marched in the heat on the weekend.
But pro-choice groups, backed by Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and The Greens, say abortion reform is long overdue in Queensland.
Independent MP Rob Pyne has introduced a bill to decriminalise abortion in Queensland to bring it into line with other states.
The issue has divided MPs, according to a report by Fairfax which asked every MP for their views.
Sunshine Coast MP and former Speaker, Fiona Simpson, has declared her opposition while Kawana MP Jarrod Bleijie said he supported the status quo remaining.
Whitsundsays MP Jason Costigan said he would not be supporting the bill.
Steve Dickson, who is now leading One Nation, has made it clear he is against abortion and says he won't support the bill if is anything like the first one.
Labor MPs have generally said they will have a conscience vote on the issue and will carefully consider the bill.
Most LNP MPs responded with a prepared statement:
LNP Members were granted a conscience vote on the Abortion Law Reform (Women's Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 introduced by Rob Pyne.
A bi-partisan parliamentary committee inquiry rejected that Bill and all LNP members supported those findings, including myself.
The parliamentary committee has not yet reported back following its enquiry into the second bill. The LNP Party Room will consider the committee's report after it is received.
It is estimated there are 10,000 to 14,000 abortions in Queensland each year and about 80,000 in Australia.
Cherish Life has raised particular concern that the bill will allow an abortion where a woman is more than 24 weeks if two doctors reasonably believe the continuation of the woman's pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman than if the pregnancy was terminated.
"This provision is just a con job to trick the public into thinking the legislation would protect viable babies. The requirement that abortions after 24 weeks have to be approved by two doctors is just a sham and a facade, as the second doctor is not required to see or speak to the patient, or even look at her file,'' Cherish Life says in a letter to church members.
"Also, the second doctor does not have to be independent so it could be that the two doctors at an abortion clinic who would profit from the procedure would approve the late-term abortion.
"There is no medical reason to perform abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, as there is never a situation in which a viable unborn baby needs to be killed to save the mother's life.
"For example, if the mother has a serious condition such as pre-eclampsia (the symptoms of which include high blood pressure and fluid retention) and the pregnancy needs to be ended, the best way to do this typically is by caesarean section which would result in the health issue being resolved quickly, the mother recovering and her baby being given every chance to survive with the best neo-natal care."
"There is no need to put the mother's health further at risk by the necessary delay involved in performing a late-term abortion through feticide, which involves killing the baby in the womb by an injection of potassium chloride into the heart, and then inducing labor whereby the mother delivers a dead baby several days later.
"If a mother wants to end a late-term pregnancy, there is no reason why the baby has to be killed in the process. There are plenty of infertile couples who would love to adopt an unwanted baby.
"There are long adoption waiting lists in Australia, and last year there were only 54 adoptions of Australian-born children to non-relatives.
"There should be an absolute ban on all late-term abortions. This is supported by 85% of Queenslanders. In fact, 72% of Queenslanders also are opposed to mid-term abortions past 13 weeks of pregnancy (Galaxy poll, May 2016).
The group is also opposed to moves to ban protests outside abortion clinics, saying it infringes on freedom of speech rights, and argues that women should be better informed and counselled before having an abortion.
But Queensland Greens spokesperson Kirsten Lovejoy, who spoke at a rally outside of Parliament House, said in a statement this week: "It is every woman's right to access essential sexual health services, yet abortion remains a crime in Queensland except in cases where the mother's health is deemed to be critically at risk."
"Access to reproductive health services including abortion can be expensive and some women have even had to fund abortions through Facebook donations.
"The Government and opposition need to get on the same page and take urgent action to decriminalise abortion in Queensland and increase access via public hospitals.
"Why, when 80% of Queenslanders want abortion to be legalised, would political parties push back against legislation that seeks to address all aspects of decriminalisation,'' Ms Lovejoy asked.
"Access to surgical abortion services is fundamentally about enabling women's health, it's time for all sides of Parliament to stop dragging the chain on this important issue.
"Anti-choice protestors should not have control over anyone's body except their own.
"We recognise the need for legislation around conscientious objection, gestational limits, and exclusion zones.
"We need exclusion zones around abortion clinics to protect women from being harassed by anti-choice protestors.
"Surgical abortion services are not always provided via public hospitals, and can be very difficult to access for rural or low-income women. In some areas of Queensland women have to travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres to access surgical abortion and other sexual health services.
"The world we live in is colourful, dynamic and full of choice - and we need to make sure that a woman's choice is not limited - or stifled - when it comes to decisions around our own health and wellbeing."