Rob Pyne braces for an unfavourable report by a parliamentary committee on his proposed changes to the Health Act
The independent MP leading a push to remove criminal sanctions for abortion in Queensland says he is concerned reforms will be defeated amid opposition from key former Labor colleagues.
The Cairns MP, Rob Pyne, said he was bracing for an unfavourable report by a parliamentary committee on proposed amendments to the state Health Act, his second attempt at abortion law reform.
The report, due on Friday, would be a decisive influence on a parliamentary vote for the bill amid escalating pressure from church and anti-abortion groups that have flagged targeting pro-choice MPs at the next state election, Pyne said.
Pyne said he was “concerned a majority of MPs on the current committee”, which includes three Labor MPs, “are anti-women’s choice on abortion”.
“And I am very concerned that, with an election just around the corner, more excuses will be found by committee members and MPs to vote down my bill, just to keep their jobs, while Queensland women remain criminalised for seeking abortion healthcare.”
Queensland and New South Wales are the only two Australian states where abortion remains an offence under criminal law, except under certain circumstances.
The Liberal National party opposition, from whose MPs the bill will need votes to pass, is to consider the report before it reveals whether it will allow a conscience vote.
One of its staunchest abortion opponents, the Cleveland MP and born-again Christian Mark Robinson, was appointed to the health, communities, disability services and domestic and family violence prevention committee just three days before the report was due.
Robinson told Guardian Australia that the report was “largely done and dusted” when he joined the committee and his contribution was “minimal”.
He said Pyne’s efforts at reform had been “amateur hour”.
The committee recommended that Pyne’s previous bill to take abortion from the criminal code, which allows a woman to be sentenced to up to seven years’ jail, be voted down.
Two Labor MPs on the committee, Leanne Linard and Aaron Harper, previously declined to declare their position on that bill before their report to avoid perceptions of bias. The third, Leanne Donaldson, could not be reached for comment.
Pyne’s proposed amendments to the Health Act are an attempt to address earlier concerns. He said they were consistent with his and “women’s rights group’s assertion that abortion is an important health issue not a criminal law issue”.
They specify that only doctors can perform abortions and that doctors and nurses are under no duty to perform abortions unless a woman’s health is seriously at risk.
For terminations of foetuses older than 24 weeks, two doctors would have to agree a woman’s physical or mental health would be at greater risk if she continued the pregnancy.
The bill would mean a woman does not commit an offence by “performing, consenting to or assisting in an abortion on herself”. It would also create “safe zones” of at least 50 metres around abortion facilities.
The parliamentary inquiry into the bill drew an extraordinary 1,275 submissions, most by individuals opposed. But most professional organisations, including the Australian Medical Association and the Queensland Nurses Union, largely supported the bill.
Public debate flared after the Catholic archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, compared late-term abortions to Nazi eugenics at an anti-abortion rally last Saturday. Coleridge later apologised for the remark.
But he also offered to “counsel” the deputy premier, Jackie Trad, a pro-choice Catholic, for whom he said “it may be more a political judgment than a moral judgment”. Trad rejected the offer, adding she “would have thought the archbishop had more important things to focus on”.
She spoke at a pro-choice rally on Thursday, calling on MPs to support the move to decriminalise abortion.
Anna McCormack, a spokeswoman for the Women’s Abortion Rights Campaign, said the vote of opposition LNP MPs whom the group had identified as “sympathetic” to reforms would be crucial. “We have concerns about the LNP ones because we think they’re under a lot of pressure to not vote according to their conscience,” she said.
“I think if the LNP ones who we believe are sympathetic are allowed to vote according to their conscience, the bill could get through – just. But if the report comes down recommending against the bills, it won’t get up. There’s no hope.”
Both Labor and the LNP previously said they would allow “conscience” votes on the issue. An LNP spokesman said despite this “all LNP members” had supported the findings of the committee which rejected Pyne’s first bill removing abortion from the criminal code. “On the second bill … the LNP will consider the report and it will be discussed by the party room after it is received,” he said.
McCormack said a defeat of abortion law reform in Queensland in 2017 would trigger “deep, deep anger and deep disappointment not just in our group but across many areas in the community”.
“Why would Queensland go this way when other states like Victoria and WA, South Australia, Tasmania have removed abortion from their crimes acts or criminal codes?”
She said her group, which formed last September to support Pyne’s push, was composed of “old women who were young in the 70s and 80s, which is when we first campaigned for abortion rights”.
“I take a sign to protest rallies that says, ‘I can’t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit’ – the old woman’s placard,” she said.
A Galaxy poll commissioned by the Australian Family Association last May found 53% of Queensland people wanted abortion laws to stay the same or be made stricter. A 2010 Newspoll commissioned by GetUp found that 72% of Queenslanders supported decriminalising abortion.
Source: The Guardian