The Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016 Qld (the second Bill) was introduced into the Queensland Parliament on 17 August 2016 by Mr Rob Pyne, the Member for Cairns.[1] Parliament has referred the Bill to the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee (the Committee).

The Committee is calling for submissions, which close on 6 October 2016. The Committee’s Report is due to be tabled on 17 February 2017.

Current abortion law in Queensland

The current law in Queensland relating to abortion is set out under sections 224-226 of the Criminal Code. These sections make it a crime for:

  • “…Any person…to procure the miscarriage of a woman…”. With the penalty being 14 years imprisonment.
  • Any women to procure her own miscarriage. With the penalty being 7 years imprisonment.
  • Any person who…supplies to or procures for any person anything…knowing…it is intended to procure the miscarriage of a woman.” With the penalty being 3 years imprisonment.

Section 282 of the Criminal Code may act as a potential defence for health professionals. In particular in performing or providing a surgical operation or medical treatment, providing it is

… for the patient’s benefit… or…to preserve the mother’s life… if performing the operation or providing the medical treatment is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case.”

However, this section of the Criminal Code only applies to health professionals and not to women seeking an abortion.[2]

Abortion Law Reform Amendment Bills

This is the second Abortion Law Reform Bill that has been put to the Queensland Parliament this year. The first Bill sought to decriminalise abortion by removing the above mentioned sections from the Criminal Code. This bill was also put to the Committee, but the Committee recommended that the first Bill not be passed.

Instead of changing the Criminal Code, the second Bill instead seeks to amend the Health Act 1937 (Qld). This Bill is much more detailed. In summary, the second Bill provides for the following:

  • Only a qualified health practitioner may perform an abortion.
  • A woman does not commit an offence by performing, consenting to or assisting in an abortion on herself.
  • A woman who is more than 24 weeks pregnant may only procure an abortion if 2 doctors reasonably believe “…the continuation of the woman’s pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman than if the pregnancy were terminated...”.
  • No-one is under a duty to perform or assist in performing an abortion (conscientious objection).
  • Creation of “safe zones” of at least 50 metres from an abortion facility.
  • Persons in the “safe zone” not to engage in prohibited behaviour such as harassment or intimidation.
  • Preventing the publishing of images of a person entering or leaving an abortion facility without their consent and with the intention to stop them from having or performing an abortion.[3]

The second Bill is now with the Committee. The closing date for submissions is 6 October 2016.

Comparison with other States

Abortion has been decriminalised in the ACT, Tasmania and Victoria. However, there are additional legislative requirements to be met for abortions to occur after 24 weeks gestation in Victoria and 16 weeks gestation in Tasmania.[4]

The second Bill has drawn on both the Victorian and ACT legislations.[5] Given that similar legislation is currently enacted in Victoria and the ACT increases the likelihood of the second Bill passing in Queensland. It will be interesting to review the Committees recommendations in February 2017.