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Queensland abortion legislation fails pro-choice and pro-life nurses

By Graeme Haycroft - posted Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland is concerned about the possible impact on members of the Palaszczuk government's and now the Frecklington opposition's move to liberalise abortion.

Without seeking the views of their members, the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union originally advocated and supported the proposed new laws that will allow abortions up to and into the last trimester of pregnancy.

It did this under the banner of women's rights.


The NPAQ believes the QNMU has not taken into account the practical consequences of the potential discrimination against not only those nurses and midwives who conscientiously object to abortion, (in particular late term abortion), but also the nurses who would consider themselves "pro-choice".

The NPAQ is a natural home for nurses who want to express their rejection of the QNMU's social agenda.

Many nurses who quit the QNMU to join our association tell us they do not want their membership fees used to promote any pet political causes.

Accordingly, we have considered the proposed legislation only in terms of its potential effect upon the nurses, both for and against, who will have to assist with these procedures. There are a number of problems.

It is probable that half of all of all nurses hold conscientious objections to abortion. These nurses face very real potential discriminations under this legislation. We are not suggesting that this has been done deliberately, rather that the QNMU were looking at the rights of women who want to terminate their pregnancies rather than the interests of their nurse members who will inevitably be assisting them in doing so. It is a shame they didn't ask them first.

In a nutshell, how does an employer accommodate the views of the conscientious objectors without discriminating against them in the workplace? Equally, how do they deal with those who hold the opposite view? They too may be subjected to discrimination.


It is a difficult reconciliation because abortions are no longer going to be performed only in specific private clinics where nurses can freely choose to work or not to work. If this legislation passes, abortions will increasingly become specialty procedures in larger hospitals including Queensland Health facilities. Don't believe anybody who says this won't happen. Midwives and perioperative nurses will simply be rostered on to abortion procedures as they are to all other procedures. The legislation properly allows that a nurse may object on conscientious grounds but the onus remains on the nurse to announce their objection in each case. Clause 4.4 of the nurse's Code of Conduct recognise the nurse's right to not provide or participate directly in treatments for which they have a conscientious objection. But the conscientiously objecting nurse must then ensure that the person/patient has alternative care options. So how do they do that in practice if half of their colleagues hold the same view? The alternative care options may not be readily available. The right to conscientious objection could well also be lost and the nurse bound by the common law to proceed anyway. There are many similar problems without evident simple and workable solutions.

The point here isn't that the legislation is so badly drafted that the majority of conscientiously objecting nurses will soon find themselves distressingly forced to assist with abortions. That clearly is not the case. But how is this cohort of conscientious objectors going to be accommodated and not discriminated against in rostering arrangements? How are these nurses going to be identified? Will they have to declare their objection when they apply for a job? And to what extent will they have to declare that? Will they be compensated for being rostered onto procedures that they conscientiously object to and can't do and can't find an alternative? How will roster equity be achieved for these nurses? What will be the career prospects of these nurses be if their managers are pro- choice? Or vice versa? That's right, it cuts both ways. How do you protect 'pro-choice' nurses if they have 'pro-life' managers?

We could go on but you get the drift. Too many loose ends.

Before any of this was done the NPAQ believe that all of Queensland midwives and nurses should have been involved in a series of workshops to sort out these potential discrimination issues. But the QNMU ensured that nurses were deliberately denied any say in this. Now that the LNP parliamentarians have backed down over the ALP "conscience vote" ploy, the legislation is sadly "fait accompli" without these crucial issue being resolved. Queensland nurses have been poorly served by the QNMU and both sides of politics.

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About the Author

Graeme Haycroft is the executive director of the Nurses Professional Association of Australia.

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