Queensland abortion law change is woman's best hope
Jamie Walker | August 31, 2009
Article from: The Australian
THE pregnant woman at the centre of Queensland's abortion law standoff is pinning her hopes on legislation being fast-tracked into state parliament to allay doctors' concerns about performing drug-induced terminations.
Shay, whose unborn child is so severely malformed as to have no prospect of survival, has been told the pregnancy must be aborted for the sake of her health.
But with medical abortion services suspended due to the impasse between doctors and the state government over the legality of the procedure, no hospital will admit her.
"This is not a moral issue, it is to save someone's health," her father, Gary, told The Australian.
"Everyone should get off their high horse and get my daughter into theatre. Every day that goes by is a day too long for her."
The predicament of 19 weeks pregnant Shay, 24, has added an intensely personal dimension to the legal and political imbroglio that erupted after police moved to prosecute a couple in Cairns for illegally procuring a medical abortion, prompting obstetricians to demand the scrapping of criminal sanctions on abortion.
The government will amend a section of the criminal code, exempting doctors from prosecution for performing otherwise illegal abortions, to cover recently developed medical techniques involving drugs such as RU486 and misoprostol.
Police allege a consignment of these drugs was illegally imported by Cairns mechanic Sergie Brennan, 21, to terminate the pregnancy of his 19-year-old girlfriend Tegan Simone Leach. The couple are due to face Cairns Magistrates Court on Thursday for committal proceedings.
With state parliament sitting this week, Shay's family is hoping legislation amending section 282 of the criminal code can be rushed through, clearing the way for medical abortion services to be resumed.
Shay has been told a conventional surgical abortion would increase her chances of experiencing future pregnancy and birth complications.
Three Queensland women have been referred interstate for treatment since Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital stopped medical abortions last week and other hospitals followed suit, but Shay wants to be near her family for support. Brisbane obstetrician Adrienne Freeman has offered to perform a medical abortion at Shay's home or in a hotel room but the young woman says she would feel safer having it done in a hospital.
"The best outcome ... would be to let Shay have a termination in Queensland and for the doctors to know they are not going to get into trouble," her father said.
Cairns obstetrician Caroline de Costa, who has also suspended her clinical service using RU486, said yesterday amending section 282 would not remove doctors' concerns.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians president Ted Weaver separately advised members "the threat of prosecution remains".
"It would not be enough for us to resume, no," Professor de Costa said of the proposed amendment to section 282. "We would still be concerned about the possibility of prosecution."
Anti-abortion group Cherish Life Queensland said "pro-abortion doctors" were running a "contrived campaign" to put pressure on the government to decriminalise abortion.
President Teresa Martin said no doctor in Queensland had been charged with an abortion-related offence since the late Peter Bayliss and Dawn Cullen faced court in 1986. The case formed one of the planks of case law that widened access to abortion, even though it remained banned by criminal statute.
"The law as it stands should be enforced," Ms Martin said.
Professor de Costa said the position of colleagues working in the public hospital sector was that they would not perform medical abortions while there was question over their legality.