ACL Queensland Director Wendy Francis addresses the Queensland Parliament Health, Communities, Disabilities and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee 1 August 2016 in regards to a bill by Cairns MP Rob Pyne to remove safeguards from abortion in the State. 

Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee in regards to the Abortion Law Reform (Woman's Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016. 

This private member’s bill, drafted by Mr Rob Pyne, allows abortion to birth for any reason. The termination of pregnancy is one of the most sensitive and indeed, controversial, issues for women that exists. And yet, Mr Pyne has made it clear that, in drafting this Bill, he consulted with 1 pro-abortion group and 3 pro-abortion Doctors. He did not meet with any groups, medical practitioners or professionals who hold other views, despite the serious nature of abortion and the ramifications of his bill. This is an issue of life and death and Mr Pyne’s bill is irresponsible and ill informed. 

Mr Pyne says we should change our abortion legislation because it’s no longer 1899. Why would preborn babies deserve less protection in 2016than they did in 1899? Especially when you consider that today we have the technology to see so clearly the humanity of the baby in the womb.

Mr Pyne’s bill allows abortion to birth for any reason. Yet, if we consider best practice globally, we find that very few European jurisdictions permit abortion on demand beyond 12 weeks. The number of countries who retain heavy restrictions after 12 weeks is high. Cooling off periods are also common. Some countries mandate counselling. Germany, France and Belgium are particularly strong in this area. Some of the most progressive countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway also apply strict gestational limits. In fact, the vast majority of European nations have a strict upper limit at viability, with either no exceptions or very narrow exceptions. With the committee’s permission I will table this research.

Why would Australian women and babies deserve less options and protection than European babies?

The human heart begins beating at around 22 days from conception. By 8 weeks, every major organ is in place and functioning. By around 12 weeks fingerprints are forming, thumb sucking occurs, the baby can kick, move his or her toes, and make a fist. By 16 weeks babies in utero blink their eyes, vocal chords are formed, and they respond to music. By 20 weeks, the baby somersaults in the womb and by around 23-24 weeks, with the inner ear fully developed, the baby recognizes their mother’s voice. 

In Queensland, babies who die at or after twenty weeks gestation are required by law to be given a death certificate, acknowledging their humanity.

In a Galaxy Poll conducted between Friday, May 6 and Sunday, May 8, 2016, 66% of voters in Queensland believed that an unborn child at 20 weeks of pregnancy is a human person with human rights and 85% of Queenslanders are opposed to abortion after 20 weeks.

It was shocking to hear from Queensland’s health minister, Mr Cameron Dick that last year 27 Qld babies were born alive after late-term abortions, and allowed to die. This is more than one baby per fortnight. Since 2005there have been over 200 Qld babies born alive following abortions in Qld. 

The Qld Department of Health’s Maternal and Perinatal Council Report 2015 further indicates that in 2012-13, four of the late term babies were terminated for maternal psycho-social reasonsOf these four healthy late term babies, two were delivered still born and two were born alive. I don’t believe that any woman wants to have an abortion. Most abortions happen because women feel they have no other choice. I do not seek in any way to lay blame or assign liability for the death of these two QLD babies.

At the same time, it is important that these deaths are investigated before Parliament contemplates removing all safeguards for mother and baby as proposed in the abortion bill that has been tabled by Mr Pyne. The Coroners Act 2003 imposes a duty on people to report reportable deaths if they are aware of a reportable death and do not think that it has already been reported. For this reason, I have written and asked the Qld Coroner to investigate the deaths of these two Queensland babies if they have not already done so. I have copies of my letter that I would like to present to the committee. 

In consideration of the gravity of the information before you and the as yet unanswered questions, I would urge the Committee to reject this bill and uphold the current law.