A QUEENSLAND parliamentary committee considering laws to legalise abortion has heard from a Brisbane archdiocesan spokesman that the value, equality and dignity of every human life was at stake.
“To speak of a woman’s rights is very important, but what of the rights of unborn children?” Peter Pellicaan, private secretary to Archbishop Mark Coleridge, said in an opening address to the committee.
Mr Pellicaan stated the Church’s unwavering opposition to abortion.
“The legislation before the Parliament implies that the unborn child has no rights and therefore no choice,” he said.
“If the right to life is the foundation of all other rights, it would appear that this proposed bill undermines the very foundation of all human rights.”
Committee member and Labor Member for Lytton Joan Pease, who is a Catholic, questioned Mr Pellicaan about the Church position on a woman who had been raped and wanted to abort.
“It would be ill of me not to say that’s a very serious situation that requires incredible wisdom in terms of pastoral care, in terms of counselling, in terms of support by families, by the community that she’s in,” he said.
“In terms of the Catholic viewpoint, a human life has intrinsic value regardless of its origin and so we come back to … when is it okay to take a life? Is it okay to take a life because I don’t want it? We would say no.
“We would say that life has got purpose and has got meaning and, even though it was not intended, it can have a life of its own that can be incredibly profound and bring life to others.”
Mr Pellicaan said abortion was always an undesirable scenario.
“No one gets pregnant just so that they can have an abortion,” he said.
“Thus, we should not make laws that make light of these difficult situations and treat them as if the decisions made are as routine as a minor cosmetic procedure.
“They go to the heart of our society, and whilst we may wish to ensure that those who do choose to terminate are not further stigmatised or harmed, we should not treat such exceptions as the norm.”
The parliamentary committee sat in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane, and heard a wide range of evidence from pro-abortion and pro-life advocates as well from medical professionals and lawyers.
It heard that decriminalising abortion would reduce health barriers disproportionately harming women in regional and remote Queensland.
Evidence was tendered about gender sex selection, a lack of ability of counselling services, instances of partner coercion and long-term psychological impacts post abortion.
The committee also heard distressing testimony from women who have undergone abortions.
The committee is due to report back to the Government by October 5, with laws expected to be debated in state parliament later that month.
Under the proposed changes, abortion would be legal up to 22 weeks.
After that point a woman would require two separate doctors to approve the measure.
A submission from Cherish Life Queensland warned the laws would erode doctors’ rights to oppose abortion.
“It’s also sadly ironic that doctors must refer for an abortion or to another doctor who will help the woman with her abortion endeavour – all in the name of ‘choice’, yet the doctor gets no ‘choice’ in this abortion supply-chain, even if in their professional medical opinion an abortion is not best for the woman’s health,” the submission said.
The legislation would establish “safe zones” around abortion clinics to prevent pro-life demonstrators from harassing women and staff.
However constitutional law expert Professor Nicholas Aroney told the committee that aspect of the laws could be unconstitutional, because it hampered the right of the demonstrators to protest.
He warned the High Court had recently moved to a hard line on state laws that infringed on freedom of political communication.
“There’s a real risk that the bill as drafted would fail that test,” he said, but added that even if this section of law was struck down by the High Court, the rest of the law could still operate.