The only thing more ridiculous than a law never upheld is a law suddenly applied to an individual case. It is estimated that at least one in three women in Australia will have an abortion in their lifetime. And yet we also currently have a nineteen year old woman (and her similarly young partner) on trial for procuring an abortion in Queensland. It has been decades since the last such case.
Clearly we need to reform abortion laws so that they reflect reality, that is, that abortion is frequently required and used by Australian women (and their partners). Why all the stalling?
Think you know, think again! As Dr Katharine Betts shows in her fascinating research examining twenty years worth of surveys, polls and studies – some of the barriers for reform are myths. (Betts’ interview on ABC radio is well worth a listen and inspired this post).
Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory are the only state and territory in Australia to have decriminalised abortion. Why won’t the other states? And more particularly, why won’t Queensland, where abortion law hypocrisy is terrorising some poor nineteen year old?
Because there will be an electoral backlash?
Nup. Opinion has been liberalising on abortion over the last decade. Almost everyone in Australia believes abortion should be available – either readily (55-59%) or with some limits imposed (roughly a third). A lot of people don’t know that abortion is even illegal in most parts of Australia.
Because Queensland is more conservative?
Nup. Queensland is as pro-choice as the rest of the country, and Brisbane voters are actually more progressive on abortion than Australia as a whole.
Because there will be a huge public outcry?
Nup. There wasn’t one in Victoria.
Because there will be a backlash from Catholic voters (Catholicism being a particularly influential religion in the Australian Labor Party)?
Nup. About 45% of Catholics think abortion should be readily available.
Because there are no votes to be gained, only votes to be lost on reforming abortion law?
Nup. In Queensland a recent poll showed that the pro-choice Labor candidate would gain net 1% and the pro-choice Liberal National Party candidate would gain net 2% of the votes.
Because politicians are more conservative than the community?
Nup. Surveys of candidates standing for federal elections* show that they are actually more pro-choice than the people who vote for them (notable exceptions being the more conservative parties like Family First).
* Similar research on candidates standing for state elections is not available. The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh has publicly stated her pro-choice position but she also maintains (and she is right) that she doesn’t have the numbers in parliament (including on her own side) to reform abortion laws.