FIERCE political debate is expected with Queensland laws to decriminalise abortion to be introduced into parliament next month.
The proposal, similar to laws in Victoria, would allow women to abort a pregnancy up to 22 weeks. Permission for late-term abortions – up until birth – would need to be given by two doctors.
“Safe access zones” of 150m would surround abortion clinics.
Pro-life supporters, opposed to the laws, are planning a peaceful Brisbane rally and preparing to distribute petitions through churches across the state.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk agreed to introduce a bill into parliament as early as August 16, after receiving a Queensland Law Reform Commission report that recommended removing abortion from the criminal code.
“This is an important health issue for women across this state,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“That is why my government asked the QLRC to investigate current laws relating to termination of pregnancy and offer recommendations to modernise and clarify them.
“We are delivering on our election commitment to bring forward a bill based on the QLRC’s legislation, including any necessary provisions to support the effective implementation.”
In parliament, government MPs will be allowed a conscience vote, while the opposition Liberal National Party has said it would scrutinise the detail before deciding how to proceed.
A new bill will include 150m “safe access zones” around clinics to protect patients and staff with those who breach the new rules facing up to one year in jail.
It will provide for terminations on request from a doctor or other medical professional up to a gestational limit of 22 weeks.
After 22 weeks a woman will need to discuss her reasons for seeking a termination with a doctor who will then determine if one is granted.
Doctors will be allowed to refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds, but must refer women to another practitioner.
After the bill is tabled in parliament next month, it’s expected to return for debate on October 16 – however passage of the laws is not assured.
At least six Labor MPs have expressed moral concerns, while other government members have closely guarded their views.
Opposition leader Deb Frecklington said it had been past practice to allow party members a free vote on “beginning and end of life” issues.
She said she would personally review the proposed legislation.
“Our party has strong views on it, many of our members have strong views on it, and that’s reflective of the general public,” Ms Frecklington said.
“I do think I need to give my party members an opportunity to see what is in the legislation before we make any rash statements.
“What I would say is we have seen in the last parliament a piece of legislation that was on this topic that was completely abhorrent, that went to full-term abortion.”
Ms Frecklington was referring to two private member’s bills put forward by former Member for Cairns Rob Pyne.
His bills were rejected by a parliamentary inquiry and withdrawn at the last minute before voting.
Proposed bill does not address a women’s health issue: leaders say
In response to the Premier’s comment on abortion being a health issue, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said it was not the case.
“At a deeper level it is patently a moral issue that concerns the common good because it is about questions of life and death,” he said.
“When you talk about abortion you are talking about two lives – both of which matter.”
He said the Church had to enter the debate “with a genuine respect, a reverence for life, but a respect for the convictions of other people”.
WATCH: Archbishop Mark Coleridge weighs in on the 2017 abortion debate in Queensland following two proposed bills from former Cairns MP Rob Pyne (story continues after video):
The pro-life group, Cherish Life Queensland described Labor’s abortion proposal as “extreme legislation” that would allow late-term abortion, as in Victoria, on “psycho-social” grounds.
“This radical bill is a con job to try to trick the Queensland public into thinking there will be an effective restriction on late-term abortions, when in fact it will legalise the killing of healthy viable unborn babies for social or financial reasons,” Cherish Life’s executive director Teeshan Johnson said.
“Recent research by YouGovGalaxy showed that only five per cent of Queensland voters support abortion after 23 weeks, with 73 per cent opposed.
“Also, the price of endorsing decriminalisation is that abortion will be legal for sex selection.
“Only six per cent of Queenslanders support sex-selection abortions, with 85 per cent opposed.”
The QLRC was tasked with redrafting the Pyne abortion bills.
It received almost 1200 submissions, as well as more than 2700 submissions made by the previous Health Committees on the matter in 2016 and 2017.
Cherish Life said it would soon release details of a paper petition against abortion to be circulated throughout church communities.
It is planning a peaceful rally outside Parliament in September.