Pyne Bill #1 Inquiry Report Highlights

It's a lot of hard yakka to read through a 117 page parliamentary report, so we've done it for you.  Here is our summary of what is worth knowing.

The reason the Health Committee recommended that the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016 should not be passed was that the Bill failed to achieve a number of its stated objectives:

“The explanatory notes… indicate that the Bill’s objective, by decriminalising abortion, is ‘to protect vulnerable Queensland women and the doctors that are currently risking prosecution to assist them’. The committee does not consider the Bill fully achieves the objective of protecting women and doctors from the risk of prosecution. Mr Pyne pointed to the case of R v Brennan and Leach to highlight the impact of prosecution. However, the committee noted that, at the time of the case, charges may have been possible for importation of a drug without a permit (Customs Act 1901, (Cwth)); or for possession of a restricted drug under the Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996. In similar circumstances in future, people could still be prosecuted…

“Mr Pyne advised the committee that he was ‘prompted to move on this private member’s bill” by the case of Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service v ‘Q’ …. I thought that was just wrong and would not happen if the law were to be changed.’ The committee notes that the Bill does not address the legal principles in that case” (Page 34).

Highlights of the 117 page report included:

  • The committee conceded that “a foetus may have some rights as a potential person” (page 23), but quoting the European Court of Human Rights it said that these must be “limited by the mother’s rights and interests” (Page 24). Of course, we know that the unborn child is a person with potential, not a potential person, and that the right to life of a pre-born child must take priority over his or her mother’s right to the pursuit of her goals or needs as they exist at the time. The right to not be killed supersedes the right to not be pregnant.
  • The committee has accepted the opinion of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that “abortion is safer than childbirth” (Page 40). The report also stated that “it is clear that there is no established causal relationship between abortion and mental health outcomes” (Page 58). Yet it quoted a pro-choice obstetrician/gynaecologist who strongly supported prevention strategies as saying that  “termination of pregnancy should however be a rare procedure as it is traumatic for the women involved and staff providing the service” (Page 52). For the truth on the physical and psychological risks of abortion to women, click here.
  • The committee seemed to accept highly questionable evidence from the UN Women National Committee Australia that “sexuality education does not hasten sexual activity, but has a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, and can delay sexual debut” (Page 54). In fact, sex education without values is likely to be an incitement to experimentation by young people.
  • The report reveals that case law in Queensland does not recognise the concept of parental consent for girls under 18. Either they are competent and can make the decision themselves, or a court has to decide (Page 13).  The Australian Centre for Health Law Research called for this to be “enshrined into legislation” (Page 61). The 75% of Queensland voters who believe that parental consent should normally be required for girls under the age of 16 will be horrified to learn that parents have no rights at all to protect their daughters from the harm of abortion. Far from enshrining current case law into legislation, Parliament has a duty to pass laws to restore rights to parents to make life-changing health decisions in the interests of their under-age daughters.
  • The committee stated that Professors Heather Douglas and Caroline de Costa had “identified a practice in Queensland… where doctors manufacture mental illness to justify a lawful abortion in accordance with section 282 of the Criminal Code” (Page 64). This confirms what we already knew that the vast majority of abortions in Queensland are performed unlawfully.
  • Griffith University Professor of Medical Ethics Eleanor Milligan amazingly was quoted in the report as saying: “Criminalising termination of the pregnancy is not protective of the rights of the foetus” (Page 81) and “... the interests of the foetus are better served through decriminalisation and the implementation of appropriate medical care within a culture of transparency and reflective practice” (Page 82). So the unborn child is better off dead? How ludicrous! Such incoherent thinking from a highly-paid professor of ethics! This would be laughable if it were not so sad.
  • The committee seemed to recognise the importance of independent counselling and informed consent, citing Queensland Health guidelines stating that the counsellor should have “no vested interest in the pregnancy outcome” and that informed consent counselling involves ensuring the patient understands “the nature and method of the procedure” and the “risks and complications” (Pages 84-85). Of course, in the vast majority of cases, this is not happening. Women are not making a free and fully informed choice. The true risks of abortion are being kept from them and they are not informed of the development of the unborn child.
  • In the report, the committee gave a number of options besides the status quo, one of which is the removal of Section 225, the penalty on the woman. It also raised the possibility of passing the buck by referring consideration of abortion law reform to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. Pleasingly, the committee stated regarding the decriminalisation option that it “considers that simply removing offences from the Criminal Code, without some level of regulation, is inconsistent with community expectations. While professional standards and guidelines provide some protections, further regulation would be consistent with community expectations.”  It hinted that its final recommendations from the new inquiry into Mr Pyne’s second Bill would support health legislation dealing with a late-term abortion time limit, conscientious objection, safe access zones around abortion facilities, data collection and counselling services for women (Pages 77-78). It should be noted that if the late-term time limit was effective and informed consent counselling was truly independent and mandatory, this would be a great improvement on the abortion law we have now. However, despite the fact that the committee has recommended against it, there is a real danger that the first Pyne Bill to remove abortion laws from the Criminal Code, or a new Bill to decriminalise abortion, could be supported by a majority in Parliament if voted on together with any health legislation which would emerge from the committee process.
  • The committee commissioned Australian National University to assess the reliability of seven Australian opinion polls on abortion undertaken since 2007, including the Australian Family Association’s Galaxy poll in May this year. Showing its bias, ANU tried to discredit the Galaxy poll’s findings, claiming that “it did not provide reliable information on community attitudes” due to the “leading nature of the questions, relatively small sample size and lack of information on how the sample was selected and response rates”. In fact, the questions in this gold standard randomised telephone poll, What Queenslanders Really Think About Abortion were objective and factual. Galaxy Research managing director David Briggs stated in evidence read out to the committee: “All information included in the questions was accurate and we believe the questions were balanced and fair.  For each question respondents could agree or disagree with the idea presented, or if they were uncertain could answer with a 'Don't know' response.  At no time did we attempt to lead respondents to a particular response… In this survey we attempted to assess opinion beyond the superficial and this is the reason it may seem at odds with research designed to test community attitude to motherhood slogans.” As for the supposedly small sample, Galaxy’s professional advice was that it was adequate for Queensland, whereas a national poll would have needed a sample of at least 1,000 to be credible. The sampling variation on a telephone poll of 400 in Queensland is plus or minus 4.9 per cent at the 95 per cent confidence interval. On a poll of 1,000 the sampling variation would have been not that much less at 3%. It is telling that ANU made no attempt to contact Galaxy for information on how the sample was selected and response rates (Pages 105-106).

DECRIMINALISATION MUST LEAD TO INCREASE IN ABORTIONS

The report stated:

“Submitters suggested that criminalisation of abortion leads to inequity, as the current laws result in access to services being constrained by geographic location and access to resources. Submitters argued that criminalisation of abortion can obstruct services and disproportionately impact on women who are already disadvantaged–such as those who are young; experiencing poverty, violence or mental health issues; live in rural, regional and remote locations; and often Indigenous women who do not have access to such services…. (Page 29)

“Some clinicians reported that the availability of termination services in Queensland, from both public and private sector providers, is adversely affected by the current law” (Page 72).

Indeed, the report quoted the Australian Centre for Health Law Research: “Making the procedure lawful is likely to increase its availability in public health services therefore increasing access to more women” (Page 81).

Yet “submitters also argued that decriminalising abortion does not lead to an increase in abortions and could lead to a decrease. It was argued that there is no correlation between the legality of abortions and the number of abortions performed in any given jurisdiction” (Page 30).

The committee did not pick up on the obvious point that abortion advocates cannot have it both ways. The inevitable outcome of decriminalisation allowing free abortions on demand in public hospitals will be an increase in the number of abortions performed and the number of women hurt by abortion.