Queensland Parliament Just Voted To Decriminalise Abortion

NSW is now the only state where abortion remains a crime.

A protest ahead of Queensland's vote on decriminalising abortion

Queensland will finally move to decriminalise abortion, after 119 years of restricting women’s reproductive rights.

The state’s parliament today voted 50-41 to decriminalise abortion after two days of emotional debate. Under the new laws, abortion will be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue, and will be available up until 22 weeks of pregnancy, as well as after that with the approval of two doctors.

The bill also sets up 150-metre safe access zones around abortion clinics, banning protestors from the area so that people can access abortion clinics without fear of harassment.

Previously, abortion was listed in Queensland’s criminal code, which meant it was only possible to access a legal abortion in cases where one would “prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health”. That second part was defined pretty vaguely, which made accessing abortions very tricky, sometimes impossible, for people who needed them.

The vote on the bill was preceded by an emotional debate in Parliament, where MPs on both sides of the issue made passionate pleas for their colleagues to vote with them. More than once, MPs were in tears or close to tears as they spoke. On Tuesday, Labor MP Joan Pease asked everyone in the room to consider what it would be like to actually be a woman needing an abortion.

“Trust the woman,” she said. “I believe she is capable of knowing what is right for her.”

Opponents of the bill criticised what they described as the bill’s poor design, with Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates saying “the bill goes too far” in allowing abortion up to 22 weeks.

This isn’t the first time Queensland has attempted to decriminalise abortion. In 2016, independent Queensland MP Rob Pyne introduced a bill to decriminalise abortion, which faced several setbacks before the Coalition promised to vote it down in 2017. Given that it had no chance of passing without Coalition support, Pyne withdrew the bill and it never went to a vote.

This time around, though, the Coalition granted its MPs a conscience vote on the issue. Queensland’s Labor government, which introduced this week’s legislation, also gave its MPs a conscience vote.

The legislation will come into effect later this year.

NSW Is Now The Only Australian State Where Abortion Is Still A Criminal Offence

Queensland’s decision means New South Wales is now the only Australian state that still hasn’t decriminalised abortion. Just over a month ago, a study found that three quarters of people in NSW didn’t actually know abortion was still a crime there, so here’s your reminder.

In fact, the NSW parliament actually voted to keep abortion in the Crimes Act in 2017, when they had the opportunity to decriminalise it. Voters don’t share the parliament’s views, though — the same survey that revealed most of NSW didn’t know abortion was illegal showed that around the same number of voters thought abortion should be decriminalised and regulated as a healthcare service.

Eighty-one percent of respondents also supported exclusion zones banning protestors around abortion clinics, similar to the zones Queensland just voted for, which allow people to use the clinics without fear of harassment.

In the wake of Queensland’s decision, then, NSW should also be taking a look at the way it treats abortion. If you live in NSW, now’s a good time to contact your MP about this issue and let them know how you feel.

Feature image via Fair Agenda on Facebook