Abortion in Queensland

At Greenslopes Day Surgery, we believe that every woman has the right to planned parenthood, a right to choose, and a right to their own reproductive system.

An article written for ABC News states that the current laws in Queensland surrounding abortion are outdated, ambiguous, and leave both patients and doctors in a potential legal blind. There have been bills presented before parliament to change the legislation. However, abortion still remains a 'grey area' in health and retains a substantial amount of uncertainty around the topic. This makes abortion difficult to access as most are performed in private facilities with little government support.

How Abortions in Queensland are currently legislated

In Queensland, an abortion is regarded as lawful if performed to prevent serious danger to the woman's mental and physical health, even though abortion is contained in the Criminal Code. Women and doctors can be criminally prosecuted for unlawfully accessing or providing termination procedures.

Legislation:
Queensland Criminal Code 1899, sections 224, 225 and 226.

Section 224 – 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 for 14 years.

Section 225 – 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 methods 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.

Section 226 – Any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person anything whatever, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.

Section 282 of the Criminal Code attempts to define a lawful abortion and is used as a defence to unlawful abortion. In 2009, the wording was amended to encompass the medical abortion:

A person is not criminally responsible for performing or providing, in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation on a medical treatment of:

  1. A person or unborn child for the patient's benefit; or
  2. A person or unborn child to preserve the mother's life;

if performing the operation or providing the medical treatment is reasonable, having regard to the patient's state at the time and to all circumstances of the case.

Statistics:

There is no standardised national data collection on unplanned pregnancy and termination procedures in Australia, and each state has different laws and regulations. Therefore, various reporting mechanisms are used. It is estimated that approximately half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned and that half of those are terminated. Also, between one quarter and one third of Australian women are estimated to experience an abortion in their lifetime.

Due to the limitations on data collection, estimates are calculated using a combination of public hospital morbidity data, Medicare data, and private health insurance claims. The most recent estimate was calculated in 2005, prior to the introduction of the medical abortion. The estimate in 2005 found that 83,210 induced abortions were performed in a year and that women aged between 20 – 29 were most likely to present for the procedure. The resulting estimated abortion rate in Australia was approximately 19.7 per 1,000 women aged 15 – 44. As this result was produced in 2005, the statistics are likely to have changed significantly since then.

Queensland statistics:

Due to various contributing factors, a statistically significant estimate has not be made. It is accepted that approximately 10,000 – 14,000 abortions occur in Queensland every year, but with the lack of standardised data collection and reporting, it is nearly impossible to narrow that range down to something more specific. A leading concern for this lack of state data is that information about abortion rates makes it difficult to monitor service delivery and to see whether health interventions are being successful in reducing the unplanned pregnancy and abortion rate.

References:
A Chan, L Sage 'Estimating Australia's abortion rates 1985-2003' Medical Journal of Australia 2005; 182 (9): 447-452. Available online at https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2005/182/9/estimating-australia-s-abortion-rates-1985-2003.

M Griffiths 'Abortion laws ambiguous, outdated in Qld and NSW, doctors argue', ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-10/abortion-call-to-decriminalise-qld-and-nsw/7914410 Accessed 20 February 2017.

Queensland Criminal Code 1899. Available online at https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/C/CriminCode.pdf

Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems World Health Organisation, Geneva 2003 p12. Available online at http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/en/ Accessed 6 February 2017.

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