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One shiny day at university I received a flyer. A flyer fronting full legalisation of abortion and charges dropped for procuring an assisting abortion against a young couple from Cairns. Someone wanted to influence my opinion and I ended up digging deeper into the topic. I soon realised that this is a comprehensive issue with many opinions, ethical, moral and not at least judicial. I will concentrate on the pro abortion arguments represented as “pro choice”, contra arguments represented as “pro life”. I will also look at the government’s position regarding the abortion laws and the Cairns trial.
In Queensland an abortion is legal before 22 weeks, when the mother’s physical and or mental health is at risk. But many women in Queensland have abortions outside of those boundaries, so that makes the women and the doctors criminals. The data on abortion is unclear, but one databases states there are 14 000 abortions in Queensland ever year (Abortion in Queensland, 2008).
Available data on attitudes on abortion in Australia is not very strong, claims Professor Studdert in the Victoria law reform. Despite limitations like poor response rates and problems in survey design Studdert concludes that there seems to be general support for women’s right to decide for an abortion (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2008). I am thinking that this is a way of massaging the data to fit with a maybe false public consensus to be able to support to decision on law change.
The couple in Cairns is charged of illegal abortion after a police raid in their house on an “unrelated matter”, where police finds illegal medicine , mifolian, brought from Ukraine. The woman is charged for procuring her own miscarriage, according to section 225 of the criminal code which could lead to 7 years in prison. Her partner is charged under 226 for applying drugs to procuring a miscarriage and could get 3 years in prison. This is the first time in 50 years that a woman has been charged for having an abortion in Queensland (Australian abortion law and practice, n.d.). The trial starts in oct 12, 2010.
Several Pro choice demonstrations have been held different places in Queensland, one is planned in Brisbane the 9th October 2010, promoting legalisation of abortion (Media release, n.d.). “Pro life” organisations on the other side fear full legalisation of abortion (Calligeros, 2009).
I sent an e mail to both organisations that included the following 4 questions; the first differed according to their stand on legalisation.
1) Could there be any downsides (pro choice)/ positive sides (pro life) of legalising abortion?
2) What do you think about the way the government is handling this issue, especially after the trial of the young couple in Cairns?
3) Why do you think the government is not willing to change the law on abortion?
4) Do you think most people share your opinion on abortion?
Theresa Martin, the President of Cherish Life Queensland, answered the questions(appendix 1). She says that there is nothing positive about legalising abortion, “how could killing an unborn baby be positive to anyone”. This made me think of number 5 in the 6 leads, when there’s no contradictory info that could lead to opinion change it’s time to be cautious. About the Cairns trial Teresa states that she cannot comment since the case is still going through the legal processes. She hopes the government are not changing the laws because “we know abortion harms women and kills babies”. This seems to me to be a false consensus effect which also seems to be the case in the last answers “yes, the majority of Australians wants no more abortions” (T. Martin, personal communication, September 23, 1010). I think there might be a hot and a cold cog explanation for her views. She is motivated and emotionally convinced involved in her view on abortion and therefore is both surrounded by people who shares her opinion, remembers information that supports it and forget what disputes it. She also sent me information in the mail; this information was largely biased, presenting largely their point of view which is a cold cog explanation for her belief.
Chloe Emerson answered the questions for Pro Choice Queensland (appendix 2). She states that downsides to legalising abortion would be that it could galvanise the pro life minority into demonstrate abortion’s supposedly immorality. I think she seems to be attacking pro choice in her arguments, rather that coming up with any real downsides. Concerning the government’s role she thinks they’re handling the situation dishonestly. She’s saying that MP Bligh is allegedly a pro choice and that it’s been Labor’s policy to decriminalise abortion for a long time and if Bligh supports the bill it could result in a law changed. She thinks that the government is keeping the law because they want to keep the family institution since it has economical advantages. On the last question she says that most people probably haven’t given the issue as much thought as her, but mentioned an article saying that 80 % are pro choice (C. Emerson, personal communication, September, 29, 2010). I think Emerson is more reflective on the last question than Martin seems to be, but Emerson also thinks that the majority of the population shares her opinion on this matter and obviously either Martin or Emerson must be wrong.
In association with a “pro choice” rally on the 21st September 2009 in support of the Cairns couple, Attorney General Cameron Dick states that “he has no intention of changing the abortion law”. Premier Anna Bligh states that it’s a case about illegal drugs and further claims that she doesn’t think there would be enough support within the parliament to change the abortion laws (Abortion in Queensland 2009-2010, n.d.). Claire Riethmuller, director of Queensland Law Reform Commission, replied to me in a mail that “they had not done any work on the law relating to abortion”(appendix, 3). In 1991 there was a law review in Queensland, changing laws inconsistent with temporary social conditions, but this review excluded the abortion laws: 224, 225 and 226 (Mc Cormack, 1991). A title from Brisbane Times goes like this: “The abortion laws don’t reflect public opinion and therefore an MP do not have to worry about losing votes if going pro- choice abortion” (De Crespigny, Douglas, Textor, & Savulescu, 2010). I guess this article picks up an important issue, how to keep and/ or gain more votes for a party govern much in politics. So is there a real contradiction in the public opinion and is there a real consensus in keeping the laws in today’s government, or is it simply an easy way for the MP to avoid the question?
Signal detection theory can be related to the law of abortion. In consideration of the payoffs there are two types of successful outcomes. The first would be would be when a woman who has physical or mental problems gets an abortion and when there’s an correct rejection of women who’s physical or mentally health isn’t in danger. One error the government tries to avoid, but at the same time doesn’t, is that women whose life isn’t in danger have abortions, like the couple in Cairns. The second type of error is when women who are physically and mentally ill due to pregnancy don’t get to have an abortion. “Pro life” has an even more conservative criterion, while the “pro choice” has a much more liberal view on the criterion and therefore views the payoffs in different ways.
The government’s opinion and the 6 leads
What do the government really believe in anyways?
They want to keep the abortion laws as they are because this is the best for the unborn and the mother or it might also be to avoid a law change, because they don’t know the consequences of it in terms of votes. Someone I talked to meant that the political instability at the moment is the reason for keeping the laws as they are, as was supposedly also the case in 1991 during the law review. Is that really why the laws aren’t changing or could he be seeing a relationship when it’s only a chance event?
How well based is the opinion they hold?
Who do they consult with, do they listen to the public?, do they base the opinion upon research or is it a well grounded belief in their party or only to avoid losing voters? I don’t know but I think the decision upon law change should be from what research say about abortion and also what the majority of the people think.
How good are the data?
Some type of data is the public attitudes on abortion, but they are not very good (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2008). Maybe the government don’t really care about how good the data are, because even when the law change in Victoria was conducted without thorough investigation of the public attitudes on abortion, why would it be of interest in Queensland?
Do the current data really contradict what they believe?
The data from the Victorian law reform states as mentioned earlier that the majority in Australia is pro choice, so this is contradictory information for keeping the laws. But at the same time Coles, Makino, Stanwood and Dozier (2010) found that limiting access to abortion through restrictive legislation decrease abortion. I’ve heard that many believe the abortion rates are high because of lack of education concerning contraceptives. But Brown and Guthrie (2010) found in a qualitative study from England that teenagers know about the importance of using contraceptives and where to get it, but don’t think about using it because of alcohol or “being in the moment”. But then again maybe they are overconfident in their actual knowledge, like Crosby and Yarber ( 2001) found that there were a low correlation in adolescent boys’ confidence in their knowledge about how to use condoms and their actual knowledge. So the government has to deal with both contradictory and supportive information and base the decision upon that.
If the current data is insufficient to make them change their minds, what data would be sufficient?
Maybe the outcome of the trial in Cairns will have an impact, I believe that if the couple is convicted pro choice will put more pressure on the government since people are going to fear being charged. But at the same time someone told me that Pro life side seem to have growing support due to an increasing rate of conservative Evangelical Christians in Queensland.
Is it worth finding out about or is it just a case of why not?
The government are not necessarily passive about the issue but seems to be passive about taking action because what would be the results of that, especially in a political unstable time like this.
I’m guessing that most people use the in the middle heuristic, being fair to both sides when it comes to the issue on abortion. Like the Victorian law reform stated, most people are pro choice, but with limitations. After receiving the flyer and mostly coming across news articles on law change I believe I used the availability heuristic, thinking that most people are pro choice. But after being in contact with pro life organisation I saw a switch in the availability heuristic, ending up believing that there are strong opinions in both directions on this issue and probably many ending up passive but unconvinced. So when it comes to the Cairns trial, why are they suddenly being convicted? First of all there seem to be more to this case than meets the eye, it’s also a case about illegal drugs and also the police went through their house on an “ unrelated matter”, but they were after all charged on the law of abortion. I talked to one who studies law who actually had the opinion of the couple being convicted because lawyers want a law change. Who really knows, the trial in Cairns is to be continued and so is the discussion on abortion.
Abortion in Australia. (nd). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from
Abortion in Queensland. ( 2008, oct 17) In University of Queensland School of Medicine.
Retrieved from http://www.fpq.com.au/pdf/AbortionConfRec.pdf
Abortion in Queensland 2009-2010: A Timeline. (nd). In Pro Choice QLD. Retrieved from
Australian abortion law and practice. (n.d.) In Children by choice : association incorporated.
Retrieved from http://www.childrenbychoice.org.au/nwww/auslawprac.htm
Brown, S., & Guthrie, K. (2010). Why don’t teenagers use contraception? A qualitative interview study: The european journal of contraception and reproductive health care, 15, 197-204.
Calligeros, M. (2009, February 8). Anti-abortion groups fear law change. In Brisbane Times. Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/queensland/antiabortion-groups-fear-law-change/2009/02/08/1234027818125.html
Coles, M. S., Makino, K. K., Stanwood, N. L., & Dozier, A. (2010) How are restrictive abortion statuses associated with unintended teen birth? Journal of Adolescent Health: 47, 160- 167.
Crosby, R. A. & Yarber, W. L. (2001). Perceived versus actual knowledge about correct condom use among U.S. adolescents: results from a national study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 28, 415–420.
De Crespigny, L., Douglas, T., Textor, M., & Savulescu, J.( 2010, July 5). Abortion laws don’t reflect public opinion. In Brisbane Times.
Hears, J. (2007, August 23). Parliament decides the abortion debate. In The Australian; The heart of the nation. Retrieved from
Mc Cormack, A. (1991, October 30) Queensland law review excludes abortion. In Green Left. Retrieved from http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/362
Media release: Organisers expect strong support for abortion rights rally (n.d.) In Pro choice action collective. Retrieved from http://www.prochoiceactionqld.org
Victorian Law Reform Comisson. (2008). Law of Abortion: Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/b279a800404a0cb19720fff5f2791d4a/VLRC_Abortion_Chapter3.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
Appendix, 1: Theresa Martin.
1) What are the negative sides of legalising abortion in Queensland?
Where do I begin? Firstly, the law stands as an educative as well as protective role in society. By the mere fact that the law states it is wrong to kill a baby in the womb, it is making a strong positive statement about the value of the unborn – you or I a few months before we were born.
It protects women as a last (thin) veneer against the pressure they come under by husbands, boyfriends and parents, by giving them the ability to say “abortion is illegal”.
2) Could there be any positive sides by legalising abortion in Queensland?
No. How can making it allowable to kill an unborn baby be a positive thing for anyone? It certainly isn’t for the baby. Once we allow the killing of the unborn, through the natural progression of those pushing for this law, soon it would become an effort to remove from the planet those babies already born who perhaps aren’t perfect in the eyes of the world. We have already seen a push from the other end of the scale with the push for euthanasia ie killing off the oldies often unvoluntary that is already happening in other countries.
3) What do you think about the way the government is handeling this issue, also related to the trial of the young couple in Cairns?
As the case is currently going through the legal process, we are unable to comment upon that aspect of it. We can however make the observation that whilst we send 20 year olds off to fight in the war and put them in charge as manager of MacDonald’s stores, this particular lady at 21 felt so unsupported and ill-equipped to care for a baby that there was a resort to drugs that are illegal in Australia. The whole case is a little ‘on the nose’ as a simple google search would have shown her that da Costa, an ob/gyn, does abortions using similar drugs in the very town that she, the woman, lived in.
Further, irrespective of what the drug was to be used for, we cannot condone the illegal importation of restricted medications.
4) Why do you think the government is not willing to change the law on abortion?
I would hope that it is because we know abortion harms women and kills babies. Many women suffer a lot with post-abortion trauma, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Fergusson in NZ did a study that showed consistently that women who had abortions suffer depression on a deeper level for longer periods than women who have had a baby under difficult circumstances, even those who suffered depression before they had the baby. And this is just one symptom. Others can be future miscarriages due to damage to the cervix or scarring of the uterine wall, rupture of the uterine wall, sexual dysfunction, increased drug or alcohol use, self-harming, eating disorders and the list just goes on and on. Two good books to read about these issues are Giving Sorrow Words by Melinda Tankard Reist or Forbidden Grief by Theresa Burke. There are many more including ones on the harm done to men by abortion.
Most abortions are done in private hospitals, which affects women of low income and those living in rural areas.
Appendix 2: Chloe Emerson
1) Downsides to legalising abortion: it might galvanise the anti-choice minority. If they can’t win on legal grounds they might ramp up the campaign to restrict abortion access through promoting the idea that it is immoral. However, they are working pretty hard already on a number of fronts, and they are in the minority (80% of QLDers believe that abortion should be legal), so I think overall it would be a positive if abortion were decriminalised.
Some people have spoken to me about situations in which they were forced to have an abortion and use this as an argument for restricting access. Obviously I don’t support this, and I think this practice would continue whether abortion were legal or not.
Some people say that decriminalising abortion would lead to a spate of dodgy doctors setting up shop, but I’m pretty sure that unregistered medical practice is illegal, and in fact would be more likely in the case of restricted access.
2) I think the government is handling the issue dishonestly. Anna Bligh is, allegedly, pro-choice. It has been QLD Labor policy for decades to decriminalise abortion. 80% of QLDers think it should be legal. Internal Labor party polling has shown that if Bligh supported the bill it would get the number of votes needed. There is absolutely no good reason in terms of parliamentary democracy that the Labor party has not already taken this action.
The action that they have taken is to lie about the charges and say that they’re related to drugs, to fiddle with the laws to maintain the status quo, and let this poor couple in Cairns face criminal charges under a law that shouldn’t exist.
3) I think that the government not changing the law on abortion is part of a larger agenda to maintain the institution of the family. It seems to be an ongoing policy of economic rationalists to move responsibility for welfare from society as a whole towards individuals and families. So while in the smaller picture decriminalising abortion might make sense for capitalism (perhaps by enabling women to get a better education, for example) in the bigger picture it makes more sense to maintain the institution of the family for the free child-rearing, looking after the sick, paying for the education of individuals, etc. that it provides.
4) I think most people haven’t given it as much thought as I have, not having been involved in the campaign. However, I will send you a recent document about QLDers opinions on abortions for your reference if you give me your email address. The quick summary is that most people are pro-choice.
Standing on stalls I find that a lot of people from every walk of life are very supportive of our cause, but I do think there’s a worrying trend of young men being anti-choice.
The Queensland Law Reform Commission has not done any work on the law relating to abortion.
Queensland Law Reform Commission
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