QUEENSLAND’S politicians are preparing for a fiery showdown on abortion early next year following a surprise parliamentary move by supporters of the so-called Pyne Abortion Bills.
In a planned parliamentary manoeuvre on November 29, Member for Cairns Rob Pyne put forward a procedural motion to have his two abortion bills debated together, rather than separately.
Labor Government members voted in support, Opposition LNP members voted against and, with minor party and independent votes even, the Speaker was left to cast the deciding vote to carry the motion.
Both major parties – Labor and LNP – have said they would allow MPs a conscience vote on the issue – but this was not evidenced in voting on the procedural motion.
Pro-life campaigners, including Australian Christian Lobby’s state director Wendy Francis, took to social media to condemn the Queensland parliamentary motion.
“Today Rob Pyne and Queensland Labor took Queensland a step closer towards introducing Australia’s worst abortion laws,” she tweeted.
It means battlelines are deepening between politicians who support or oppose legalising abortion ahead of the crucial parliamentary debate.
Advocates from both sides of the abortion debate have also vowed to rally grassroots supporters to lobby their local state MPs ahead of a parliamentary debate expected in early 2017.
Member for Cleveland Dr Mark Robinson, who stands staunchly against abortion, accused Labor and Mr Pyne of collaborating to push the abortion bills on Queenslanders.
“The Government is using Rob Pyne and, between them, they are using dirty tactics to try and reform an area that should be much more carefully considered, rather than sneaky political tactics,” Dr Robinson said.
The first of the two Pyne private member’s bills aims to decriminalise abortion, and the second sets abortion procedural guidelines and the establishment of 50m “safe zones” and gestational limits.
A parliamentary committee has recommended the first bill not be passed.
A committee report on the second bill is due to be tabled in Parliament by February 17.
Earlier this year, The Catholic Leader contacted all Queensland Members of Parliament and asked if they supported Mr Pyne’s proposed Abortion Bill, and if there should be gestational restrictions and reported their responses.
More than 17,000 people have signed a Queensland parliamentary petition opposing any changes to the state’s abortion laws following the proposal of the second bill.
On the final parliamentary sittings day, December 1, a “pro-choice” rally in support of the Pyne abortion bills attracted about 40 people outside the Queensland Parliament.
They included trade union representatives, Greens party supporters, Young Queenslanders for the Right to Choose and a group called Women’s Abortion Rights campaign which the group’s convenor Anna McCormack said had reformed to support the latest push to decriminalise abortion.
“We are a small group of old women who were active in the ’70s and ’80s around abortion rights and we haven’t been active for some 25 years,” Ms McCormack said.
“When Rob Pyne’s bills came up we decided we wanted to do what we could to maximise support for the bills and to maximise the chances of success.”
Ms McCormack and other speakers urged supporters to lobby their local MPs ahead of a parliamentary debate, and repeated an often-repeated claim that 80 per cent of Queenslanders wanted abortion out of the criminal code.
A May 2009 Auspoll found that 79 per cent of Queenslanders supported decriminalisation.
However the claim contrasts with a Galaxy poll released in May this year which showed 53 per cent of Queenslanders either wanted the law to stay as it was, or favoured making it stricter – with 39 per cent of voters wanting it to be less restrictive.
Similarly, 49 per cent of Queensland voters said they did not want abortion decriminalised, while 43 per cent favoured decriminalisation.
Ms McCormack claimed most Queensland politicians had not yet made up their minds on the abortion issue.
Pro-life advocates have urged those opposed to pressure their state MPs, but with the counter message – not to support a proposed abortion bill – and with the backing of the Galaxy poll figures that showed electoral opposition to decriminalising abortion.
Cherish Life Queensland has urged supporters to sign an e-petition to say no to Queensland abortion law reforms that do not protect women, allow abortion to full term and limit free speech.