In the last week, new abortion laws were passed in Queensland.
It’s the first time these laws have been changed in 119 years; the legislation on abortion in Queensland was written in 1899, and listed aborting a pregnancy as a crime under sections 224, 225 and 226 of the criminal code.
Up until now, the law stated that a woman who ‘unlawfully’ had an abortion in Queensland could face up to seven years behind bars. Someone found ‘unlawfully’ administering a termination could face 14 years in prison.
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As expected, these changes have created a lot of headlines, discussions and debates. It is, after all, a very delicate discussion. Aborting a fetus that could be up to 22 weeks in gestation is a very big deal, no matter which side of the debate you stand on.
I consider myself pro-choice, as I believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body. But even I found myself wondering… why allow abortions up to 22 weeks? Why not cut it off at the first trimester, with any abortions beyond this point only permitted with two-doctor approval, as per the new rules for terminations post-22 weeks?
Then, I read about Savita Halappanavar.
Savita’s story provides heart-breaking context to this entire debate.
A 31-year-old dentist living in Ireland, Savita was married and 17 weeks pregnant with a very much wanted child when she had a septic miscarriage.
She was refused an abortion, despite the fact that her life was in danger. Just seven days after first seeking medical treatment, Savita died.
An inquiry later revealed that there had been 13 missed opportunities to save Savita’s life. It also found that she would not have died if she had been allowed to abort the 17-week-old fetus.
This happened in 2012. Earlier this year, six years’ after her preventable death, the Irish government introduced new legislation (which should be enacted by the end of the year) that allows for legal abortions for up to 12 weeks, with exceptions for pregnancies up to 24 weeks if the woman’s health is at risk.
This is one of many complicated cases surrounding termination; another, closer to home, involved a 12-year-old girl who in 2016 was forced to seek permission from the Queensland Supreme Court to terminate a pregnancy.
To clarify: these new laws are not going to encourage women to line up for abortions without a second thought. They’re going to provide essential, sometimes life-saving options for women who ultimately should have the final say about their own bodies, regardless of the circumstances.