Queensland Abortion Trial May Revolve Around One Word: “Noxious”

Robin Marty

Testimony has ended for the Queensland abortion trial.  But while we await a verdict from the jury, the bigger problem is politicians who refuse to address an outdated abortion law.

The Queensland abortion trial is no doubt the most historic reproductive rights case in Australia. A couple is being prosecuted for illegally obtaining an abortion in 2008 via a shipment of RU 486. Now, it appears that trial will revolve around one word in the abortion law, and how it is defined could determine whether Tegan Leach will serve up to seven years in jail for inducing her own miscarriage.

Leach is being prosecuted by the crown for having an abortion for “lifestyle” reasons, rather than medical necessity.  In Queensland, abortions can only be obtained for a threat to a woman’s life or physical or mental health. However, the law specifically refers to how the abortion is performed, and the jury may not feel that the drugs used by Leach qualified.

Via ABC News Australia:

With the jury set to return a verdict tomorrow, it appears the case hangs on the definition of one word in the Queensland abortion law.

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The jury has asked for directions from Judge Everson on the meaning of “noxious.”

Under Queensland law it is an offence for a woman to “administer to herself any poison or noxious thing” to obtain an abortion.

Obstetrics expert Professor Nicholas Fisk from Queensland University presented evidence to the court that the abortion pill RU486 was not injurious to the woman who took it, but was a very efficient abortifacient – a substance which induces an abortion.

Prosecution, however, argued that simply by forcing the body to miscarry, the drugs are in fact “injurious.”

In his final address to the jury, Mr Byrne said abortion drugs are intended to be injurious to a woman’s body.

“These drugs are intended to cause the expulsion of the foetus from the woman’s body,” he said.

“They are intended to change the state of the woman’s body. They are intended in one sense of the word to be injurious, hurtful, harmful and unwholesome.”

Debating the term “injurious” moves the goalposts drastically, especially declaring anything that “changes the state of the women’s body” as such.  In that broad definition, pregnancy itself is “injurious” as it causes pain, bleeding, changing in hormones, loosening of ligaments, raising and lowering of blood pressure and the like.

Still, there is another hurdle that needs to be overcome before the jury can convict Leach and her boyfriend, who is facing three years jail time for giving her the drugs.  No one can prove she even had an abortion.

Via the Australian:

Professor Fisk told the court that after reviewing the evidence, he believed “on balance” that the drugs Ms Leach took induced an early miscarriage.

But under cross-examination by defence barrister Kevin McCreanor, Professor Fisk said it was possible, but unlikely, that Ms Leach was not pregnant. He also said it was possible she had a spontaneous, natural miscarriage.

“I’m not aware of any convincing evidence that she’s had a termination of pregnancy,” Professor Fisk said.

Did Leach in fact have an abortion via RU 486, or did she miscarry on her own with no help from the drug?  Was she even in fact pregnant in the first place? She never even had her pregnancy confirmed by medical professionals.  If she did take the drugs, were they in fact a “poison or noxious thing” as the law states, or does the fact that RU486 is low risk and causes so few complications mean that the law doesn’t apply? 

A jury is meeting to decide all of these questions, and the verdict should be released soon.  However, we will still be left with the bigger question — how and when will Queensland address the flaws in their 100 year old abortion law?

Sadly, the answer to that appears to be “no time soon.”  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Police charged them under the archaic Queensland Crimes Act, that still sees abortion as a crime because the state has not had the courage to reform it.

Many politicians in New South Wales and Queensland see the continued inclusion of abortion in their crimes acts as a dormant issue. Doctors get around the law by finding the women seeking abortions are doing so to prevent physical or mental harm in line with court rulings made last century.

They say why change the law when its not necessary? What they mean is they want to avoid the noisy minority who oppose abortion making their lives difficult. When Victoria changed the law in 2008 MPs were aggressively targeted by anti-abortion campaigners. They were sent graphic pictures of aborted foetuses.  Some endured threats and targeted, personal, campaigning.

The anti-abortion lobby is loud, it is organised and often it is downright offensive. In 2009, a lead Victorian campaigner, Pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries, laid the blame for the horrific Black Saturday bushfires at the doorstep of the Victorian parliament.

The fires were God’s punishment for abortion law reform, he claimed. How charged and muddied this debate has become.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, nominally hailing from Labor’s Left faction, should have the courage to stand up to the bullies who seek to stop politicians doing their job.

She should be leading the charge to reform abortion law and bring it into line with community standards and expectations. Shame on her that she has taken the easy out of hiding behind the claim that this case is about drugs.

And of course, the anti-choice advocates are using the law to claim it is for the “protection” of doctors who don’t want to perform abortions and women who are being coerced into the procedure.

If Queensland abolishes the current law and adopts the barbaric Victorian model as demanded by abortion activists that would mean a baby can be aborted up to 24 weeks – older than some babies in our hospital nurseries – with no medical justification required, and by the most unspeakably cruel methods.

On the colluding nod of two abortion clinic doctors, the license to kill extends right up to birth, even for entirely healthy but “unwanted” babies of entirely healthy mothers.

In the Victorian model, any doctor who conscientiously objects to facilitating these “on demand” abortions has committed an offence.

Leading human rights lawyer Jesuit Father Frank Brennan called this Victorian legislation “totalitarian”.

The existing Queensland law is an essential defence for doctors and nurses who refuse to co-operate in the unjustifiable killing of babies.

The existing law is also a defence for women who are being pressured into abortion.

They can and do appeal to the fact that “you cannot tell me to do something that is against the law”.

The Queensland case will be precedent-setting however it is decided, as for the first time abortion opponents are seen doing what they really want to be doing: punishing women for not wanting to have a child.  When the verdict comes back, we will learn if that is the jury’s position, but either way, we’ve already discovered that is the position the politicians of Queensland, itself.

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