What happens when you decriminalise abortion?
A conversation starter for MPs and voters
Politicians could be forgiven for not fully understanding the impact of legalisation they introduce or vote for. Take, for example, the current Queensland parliament faced the non-enviable task of discerning whether to vote for or against a Labor-government bill to decriminalise abortion.
For the sake of Queenslanders then, given there is still a few days before the scheduled debate, let’s go over the most obvious considerations before decriminalising this particular practice en masse.
Decriminalising abortion (remembering the bill allows full-term abortion for social reasons) means we have given the green light to all the possible advertising niches that abortionists could exploit to attract more clientele. It could be via local newspapers, social media apps, video streaming, during sporting events, billboards, on fridge magnets, in school newsletters or stuck to buses, in trains or waiting rooms. Then add emails, SMS and polite marketing calls along with discounts and promotional offers.
Given that so far not one example has been offered that would result in a refusal to offer a termination, could clinics advertise for sex-selective abortions or use marketing slogans like ‘have an abortion and a holiday, you’ve changed enough nappies already’ or ‘life’s short play hard, terminate with us and keep on partying’.
Question for lawmakers: Imagine you’ve already celebrated your second grandchild arriving, and learn there may be a third, are you happy knowing your pregnant daughter whose partner faces job insecurity, will have to pass a billboard offering 25% off terminations as they drive to your place for state of origin night? Will safeguards against inappropriate advertising be put in place?
After decriminalisation, intentionally ending the life of an unborn baby becomes ‘a standard medical procedure’ governed by the health act. Let’s consider the impact on the medical profession.
Firstly, unsuspecting midwives, pharmacists, staff and doctors could face a nasty dilemma when asked for assistance or referral to get a termination. If they don’t assist, they could face punishment. In fact, to be more precise, if they have a belief or philosophy or a commitment (Hippocratic oath) or religious view that prevents them from indirect or direct killing of innocent life, the proposal in the bill requires they out-themselves to the woman asking, and then, as if that wasn’t demeaning enough, make an effective referral (or indirectly assist). This bypasses the very reason they are there, for giving health care advice. In other words, according to the proposals, having a belief or view that abortion is never good for you, makes you incapable of providing professional health care advice for such women.
Young Queenslanders with a calling to the medical professions will find abortion will become part and parcel of their training at university. Exactly, how a student could avoid participating without penalising their studies or career is not clear. Exactly, what toll this would have on enrolments, particularly in midwifery, is unclear.
Question for lawmakers: How does restrictions and compulsions on medical practitioners create real choice and ensure fully informed consent for women? Will Queensland woman now only receive one-track advice with no alternative opinions? How will conscientious objectors be protected at work and at university?
Trauma at work
Public hospitals where 22-week premmie babies are masterfully cared for, could be performing terminations of 22-week pre-borns just metres away. Imagine being told to clean a room after a successful live birth to joyous new parents, and then told to move straight upstairs to clean a room where a termination took place. Some staff may find it easy to cope, maybe they’ve had an abortion or have an ideological position in favour and that helps when they must bring all the body parts together in the kidney dish to ensure nothing was left in the woman’s uterus.
However, many staff are neither prepared for nor ideologically positioned to know how to cope with such trauma. Furthermore, there is no consideration in the bill to provide a place for them to go to process this, nor a plan on how they could prevent repeated involvement without having the job or career path jeopardised.
Question for lawmakers: Has there been adequate consultation with medical staff and other professionals about the impact on the workplace? Do medical practitioners have adequate counselling and other services to process trauma, depression, angst or other issues they will likely result from having close proximity to terminations or the psychological impact of acting against their deeply held beliefs, philosophy or religion? Will current practitioners be offered monetary compensation by the government for having the terms of their profession in Queensland changed from ‘first, do no harm’?
Trade in tissues and organs
The ‘product of conception’ that a woman donates to science after the termination are used by companies for research and testing, and by hospitals for transplants and research.
For this reason, since 2008, slowly but surely, termination clinics in Victoria have been established directly adjacent to public hospitals to allow easy transportation of organs, tissues and whole bodies.
Question for lawmakers: have you investigated the trade in baby body tissues and organs? Are you satisfied with what you discovered? Are you sure fully-informed consent provisions are provided to parents? How would a conscientious objector to abortion avoid participating in transplants/research without penalty?
The community’s standards
Several YouGov – Galaxy research polls over the last seven years have given a very clear picture of what constitutes Queensland ‘community standards’ on abortion. The most recent results in August 2018 show that only 27% think the current law is too restrictive. Most Queenslanders (60%) oppose abortion past 13 weeks. The community are not prepared for nor want (only 6% in favour) legal terminations up to birth: certainly not taking place in our much-loved public hospitals.
Furthermore, the community, in strong majorities, want independent counselling (88%), informed consent (85%), cooling off periods (79%), and protections for conscientious objectors (74%).
None of these safeguards are guaranteed in the proposed bill.
Question for lawmakers: how much in-depth research of community standards has taken place? Why implement, on such a contentious issue, provisions that go way beyond what the community approves? Why have no provisions been made for the safeguards the public support?
It is normal that harmful things remain at the periphery of society, to some extent tolerated, but still somewhat taboo. It is quite another thing to argue or promote a harm be considered part of mainstream society.
What previously was traded under a shadow of uncertainty; not in the clear view of the public and not welcome in major institutions will be suddenly given, literally overnight, full legal and commercial legitimacy.
Question for lawmakers: Is it in the best interests of the community to make the termination/killing of unborn babies a legitimate commercial trade? What safeguards will be there be for women against coercion, exploitation and profiteering tactics of clinics?
We hope this helps you discern if the bill before parliament is a reasonable, balanced one that reflects community expectations or one drafted by ideologues without due consideration for all involved and the community at large.
By Luke McCormack