Queensland abortion law change to spark vexed debate
Article from: The Courier-Mail
Rosemary Odgers and Steven Wardill
September 03, 2009 12:00am
A TECHNICAL change to Queensland's abortion laws to be rushed through Parliament today could prompt full-blown debate on the issue of pregnancy termination.The Bligh Government today will try to pass minor retrospective changes to the Criminal Code so doctors who perform drug-induced abortions are protected from prosecution
Politicians from both sides fear a single rogue MP could hijack the debate with their own amendment and force everyone into a conscience vote.Such a move could either result in a crackdown on Queensland women accessing terminations or the complete decriminalisation of abortion.
There is widespread uncertainty about many MPs' personal views.
While no politician signalled an intent to pursue an amendment yesterday, both sides of the abortion debate suspected their opponents would use the technical changes as a stalking horse for their own agenda.
Labor's 51 MPs have been told they will not get a conscience vote on the technical change and will vote along party lines, while the LNP's 34 members will decide this morning whether a free vote will be allowed.
"The Labor Party will not be exercising a conscience vote on this Bill because it does not go to the question of changing the law and it is not a Bill that is solely related to termination of pregnancy," Ms Bligh said.
However, an amendment to bring on a broader debate about abortion would allow Labor MPs a conscience vote.
The chance of Opposition MPs supporting the Government's Bill was dealt a blow yesterday when the Premier refused their request for Crown Law advice detailing the impact of the proposed changes.
Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the LNP wanted assurances the amendment would give doctors enough protection without amounting to decriminalisation by default.
"None of us want to get into the wider aspects of the debate, we're just trying to clarify existing provisions," he said.
MPs from both sides were reluctant to publicly discuss the issue yesterday although there was significant anger over the Government's decision to rush the laws through in a day.
Independent MP Liz Cunningham, who was presented with a petition from Voters for Life, criticised the Government for rushing the Bill.
Ms Cunningham said she feared the changes were a "slippery slope".
"We're (already) losing hundreds of little ones a day," she said. "I can't support that."
But fellow Independent Peter Wellington said women should not have to travel to other states to access terminations because Queensland hospitals were refusing to perform them.
"Queenslanders have a right to have their matters dealt with in Queensland ," he said.
Ms Bligh said all MPs would be given a chance to speak on the Bill tonight and she was confident therewere no rogue MP in her ranks.
She said she supported decriminalisation but believed an amendment to restrict women's access to terminations was likely to pass in the current Parliament.http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,27574,26018620-3102,00.html