A bill to remove abortion from the criminal code in Queensland was passed in October. This is despite Labor risking the defeat of the bill with a roll of the dice, by giving their MP’s a conscience vote.
This gamble meant that Labor were forced to plead with their opposition in the Liberal National Party (LNP) to do the same. In the end most Labor MPs voted in favour, but they were helped along the way by one LNP member crossing the floor and support from the Greens and independents.
The choice to allow a conscience vote came as a shock to many, given Labor’s election commitment to deliver on the issue. Labor played a dangerous game with an issue now regarded as a basic human right. Indeed, several Labor MPs echoed the apologism of Hillary Clinton’s “safe, legal and rare” sentiment when casting their vote.
With 50 to 41 in favour, MPs voted to allow access to abortion up to 22 weeks, and beyond that with the consent of a second doctor. It also places exclusion zones around abortion clinics, barring anti-choice activists from harassing those seeking to access services. 35 of the 41 votes against were cast by male MPs.
The struggle however continues. For many, choice also means the ability to choose to give birth. That means access to a full range of affordable childcare and children’s services. And while legal barriers to abortion may have been lifted, many will still struggle to afford it.
This is due to the cost itself for those with limited access to Medicare, or other expenses incurred for those required to travel vast distances to attend a clinic. Real choice means free abortion, accessible to all. That is the next fight we must wage.
We should remember that Labor has had the numbers and the opportunity to remove abortion from the criminal code on many occasions in recent decades. They were only motivated to do it by the pressure that was built up by community campaigners. Those people are the ones we should thank for this historic win.
By Eóin Dawson