'Fact and reason' needed in abortion debate: Trad

Queensland's abortion debate is heating up in the backrooms of parliament, ahead of the review into whether the procedure should be decriminalised, with calls for "fact and reason" to over-ride "hysteria and emotion". Photo: supplied
Queensland's abortion debate is heating up in the backrooms of parliament, ahead of the review into whether the procedure should be decriminalised, with calls for "fact and reason" to over-ride "hysteria and emotion". Photo: supplied
The now independent MP for Cairns Rob Pyne. Photo: Chris Hyde

The now independent MP for Cairns Rob Pyne. Photo: Chris Hyde

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad. Photo: Chris Hyde

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad. Photo: Chris Hyde

Queensland's abortion debate is heating up in the backrooms of Parliament, ahead of the review into whether the procedure should be decriminalised, with calls for "fact and reason" to over-ride "hysteria and emotion".

The state's abortion law has remained relatively unchanged since 1899, with amendments focussing on attempts to protect medical professionals from criminal charges, rather than removing the procedure from the criminal code.

Cairns independent MP Rob Pyne hopes to change that with his private member's bill, which calls for abortion to be decrimalised in Queensland, bringing the state into line with Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

A similar push in the NSW Parliament, led by Greens MP Mahreen Faruqi, to decriminalise was delayed last week, with the bill moved off the order of precedence list in the lower house.

In Queensland, Mr Pyne introduced his bill, which was put forward without a gestational limit, with a parliamentary committee now charged with consulting and reviewing it.

But the move has sparked a battle of wills within the parliament.

The Queensland branch of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), and its supporters, has been campaigning strongly against the bill, labelling it the "most dangerous abortion laws in the world", with detractors using the lack of gestational limit attached to the bill as proof Queensland will allow terminations up to nine months.

More than 23,000 people signed an ACL petition calling for outright rejection of the bill.

"With improved medical science and ultrasound technology, we know the child in the womb is human, feels pain, and therefore dismemberment and poisoning of an unborn child is barbaric. It is misleading to say abortions cannot be carried out under the current Queensland law, since around 10,000 per year are performed and no person has ever been convicted under the law," the petition, submitted by Queensland ACL director, Wendy Francis, read.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, a founding member of Children by Choice, said while debate on the issue was healthy, it needed to be based on "fact and reason, not on hysteria and emotion".

"As a community, we must move beyond irrational rhetoric to the actual lived experience of women and how our health and legal systems operate," she said.

"Decisions around late term abortions are inevitably made because the life of the mother is in danger or the foetus is not viable.

"I witnessed this first hand, when a friend of mine had to make the incredibly difficult decision to terminate her pregnancy after she was informed after 20 weeks that her baby did not have a full skull and would not live longer then a matter of hours.

"These are the sorts of decisions that women and their health professionals are confronting every day. The way that these incredibly difficult decisions have been manipulated by anti-choice advocates is disrespectful to the expertise of our doctors and fundamentally degrades the lived experiences of women.

"I feel passionately about the right of women to have agency over their own body and I look forward to engaging in this debate in a reasoned, evidence-based and respectful manner."

Mr Pyne said he had deliberately avoided attaching a limit to the bill, as he wanted the review to focus on decriminalising the procedure, rather than argue over when the procedure could legally be carried out, and said an appropriate gestational limit could be set through consultation with experts.

Queensland Health data shows 10,403 procedures were carried out in private health facilities last year.

Health Minister Cameron Dick, in response to a question on notice from a LNP MP also released data showing 27 late term terminations - over 20 weeks -  resulted in "live birth outcomes", which means born with a heartbeat.

The procedure is only carried out if the mother's life is in danger, or the pregnancy is unviable, due to physical or genetic foetal abnormalities.

Carol Portmann, an expert in foetal specialist medicine said context was needed to understand the procedure.

"Any baby born with a heartbeat at any gestation is 'born alive'," Dr Portmann said.

"This does not mean that they show vigorous signs of life – babies less than 22 weeks do not breath, cry or show distress, in the majority of situations.  They have a heartbeat, but that is all.  These babies cannot survive – they are too premature, too underdeveloped.

"If these babies are born alive, they are treated with the same respect as any baby born at these stages.  In terms of palliative care, this mostly means treating them with respect.

"To try to do anything to prolong their lives would be far more inhumane than to allow them to pass away peacefully and respectfully. Studies in Australia and overseas would suggest that less than 5 per cent of medical terminations of pregnancy under 22 weeks should result in a live birth."

Dr Portmann said keeping termination in the criminal code "complicates the care of women as it adds a layer of legal complexity on top of what is essentially a medical matter that should be managed between women and their health care providers".

The committee is set to report back to parliament in coming months.

This story 'Fact and reason' needed in abortion debate: Trad first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.