A woman’s right to choose

Thankfully the young couple who were charged with procuring an abortion in Queensland, Australia were found not guilty last week. Interestingly, the judge presiding over the trial told the jury they needed to be sure that the drugs Tegan Leach, then 19, took were dangerous to her, as opposed to the foetus.

This case reminded me of the backward abortion laws in Australia, something that I had forgotten about. The laws are different from state to state, although abortion is legal in every state if the woman’s health (physical or mental) is seriously affected. However, in New South Wales and Queensland, it’s a crime to terminate a pregnancy. Women, their partners and their doctors risk going to jail. Tegan Leach was facing a possible seven years in jail, all based on a 1899 law.

A study of almost 800 Australians over the age of 18 published in the Medical Journal of Australia earlier this year, showed that 61% believed that abortion should be legal without question for a woman in her first trimester. Mark Rankin, lecturer in law at Flinders University, responded to the research saying that it showed “what many other surveys have shown… that the vast majority of Australians favour the decriminalisation of abortion.”

Neither the Queensland or New South Wales governments believe there is any need for parlimentary debate on the subject. They argue that abortion has become generally available and affordable. But unless changes to these archaic laws are made, they are still open to interpretation by judges.

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