Due to the move of the blog to Wordpress posts from Jan 2012 onward will have commenting disabled (when I remember to do it)
Cheers - AE

Thursday, 17 September 2009

All your genitalia are belong to us - Part 2.

One of the very first things I wrote on this blog* was on the thorny topic of abortion, its then illegality in this state, and the proposal in front of the Victorian Parliament at the time to legalise it. In particular I thought it odd that a state sufficiently liberal to no longer object to women using their vaginas to make money still wanted to exercise ownership of their uteruses.
Abortion is a crime in the State of Victoria. So what, you may say. There are plenty of other places in the world where it's illegal, and whatever your views on the issue (and for the record mine are that it's distasteful but as I'm lacking a uterus I'm not going to tell women what to do with theirs) it's not an unusual situation. I think the same applies in the Republic of Ireland, and no doubt girls who inadvertently get themselves up the duff nip over to the UK for a quickie termination. Australia's physical isolation makes that a bit tricky but a quick bit of googling shows that the law is a little less strict in New South Wales and, since 2002, abortion on demand has been legal in the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra and surrounding areas for those unfamiliar with Australian administrative divisions - think Washington DC with even weirder animals).

But here's the strange thing - Victoria is one of several States to have very liberal prostitution laws. Brothels and escort agencies have been legitimate businesses here since 1994 (though street prostitution is still illegal) and no-one gets a record for using or working in one, the girls get regular medicals and blood tests and so on. So... how come a woman has less freedom when it comes to her uterus than she has in respect to the rest of her reproductive system?
Shortly after I wrote that the Victorian Parliament voted to change the law despite predictable opposition and the state joined the ACT by legalising abortion pretty much on demand (on demand up to 24 weeks, potentially later with the agreement of two doctors). This is the only state (the ACT being a territory) to have gone this far. The rest vary, but the Sunshine State of Queensland in particular is stuck in another age.
In Cairns, a young couple await a magistrate's decision on whether they will stand trial for allegedly procuring an abortion using drugs imported from overseas. Section 225 of Queensland's Criminal Code, its wording unchanged from 1861 English law, states that ``any woman, whether she is or is not with child, who administers to herself any `noxious thing' is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for seven years''.
Wait, what? 1861? Eighteen fucking hundred and fucking sixty-one? That's nearly a century and a half ago. Can that be right? Well, this is coming from a lady by the name of Caroline de Costa, and while she isn't a lawyer she is a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at James Cook University school of medicine in Cairns. I think it's not unreasonable to assume that she'd have a fair grasp of the law on abortion in her state.
In 2009, a 19-year-old woman faces this charge, her partner accused of assisting her. The law, written four years before Joseph Lister discovered the benefits of doctors washing their hands before operating, was intended to protect 19th-century women from unsafe abortion. It failed to do so then and is completely inappropriate for 21st-century abortion practice. Section 225 has been used once in Queensland in the past 110 years and the woman then involved was acquitted. However, it seems likely the present case will proceed.
Well, it has gone ahead and made news ten thousand miles away.
The case has caused controversy in Queensland, and polarised the debate on abortion in Australia, under whose Victorian-era laws it remains a crime in most states including Queensland.

So heated has the debate become that Ms Leach and her boyfriend have been forced into hiding after their home was fire-bombed and Mr Brennan's car was attacked.
Oh, how fucking lovely. Funny how violent pro-life people can be, isn't it?
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is pushing for state governments to take abortion out of the criminal codes so that doctors can work under clear rules, but pro-life groups have seized on the Leach case to push their own agenda with some describing the suggestion that abortion should be decriminalised as it is in the UK as "depraved".
As depraved as the state having de facto ownership of a woman's reproductive organs? As depraved as a bunch of people who think their religious beliefs give them the right to commit violence against property and people? Look, I don't like abortion. As I said back in August 08 I find it distasteful and I think there are better options for birth control, but not having a uterus myself I'm not about to tell people who do have them what to do with them. And as a practical matter, as the professor points out, archaic and authoritarian laws just create abortion tourism.
One result has been the transfer of Queensland women urgently needing abortions interstate or to India and New Zealand. Some of these women have had diagnoses of serious foetal abnormality, some have serious conditions themselves, and some -- such as a 13-year-old transferred from a country town -- have social reasons for abortion.

As I write, the number of women transferred is estimated to exceed 30, all paid for by Queensland Health. Undoubtedly a larger number of women have gone interstate for abortions. Such abortion tourism is the result when women are denied access to the procedure at home. Until the situation is resolved and doctors feel safe in their practice, abortion tourism from Queensland will continue.
That's just the ones being paid for by the state. And if anyone thinks that won't increase they're dreaming. It's not nice but the reality is that some women will want to terminate a pregnancy. All that's being achieved in Queensland law is discrimination against those who can't afford to travel to do it, which is presumably why Queensland Health is tapping the taxpayer for the money.
Meanwhile, doctors are muzzled. Queensland Health has forbidden any contact between its doctors and the media. It also refuses to speak on their behalf, although the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has valiantly supported Queensland Health obstetricians concerned about the law.
Fucking hell, that really helps, doesn't it? What if they speak out anyway? Will they be transported to Austral... oh.
RANZCOG specialist obstetricians head all the maternity units providing care to Queensland women in pregnancy and during birth. They are doctors who have spent at least 15 years acquiring the skills and experience to do so. Those RBWH doctors who practice in maternal foetal medicine spend further years to gain that expertise. Yet these highly qualified and compassionate doctors are unable to be heard publicly in an important debate about women's health. The only possible solution to this impasse is reform of the law so that abortion is no longer a crime in Queensland for doctors and for women. The sooner the better.
Meanwhile women will still be jumping on planes to escape Victorian attitudes, and the irony is that some will no doubt be coming to Victoria.

* In actual fact it was the second ever, and so probably no fucker ever looked at it except me, Mrs Exile, and perhaps the insane cat who likes to watch computer monitors in case the screensaver is worth playing with.

1 comment:

PCAC said...

Related Posts with Thumbnails