Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Pro choice or pro life? Criminalisation doesn’t work

By Elizabeth Mathews - posted Friday, 9 October 2009

Panic. Fear. Isolation. These make up the roller coaster of emotions many women experience when they discover they have an unwanted pregnancy. Life plans are discarded, picked up and then thrown aside again just as quickly as indecision runs riot in an area where decisions are all too final.

Earlier this year, Tegan Leach, 19, and her boyfriend, Sergie Brennan, 21, both from Cairns, went through this unbelievably difficult process and came to a decision. The Queensland couple decided they did not want to continue with the pregnancy. So Sergie organised for the abortion drugs Milofian and Misoprostol to be brought to Australia and Tegan took them, inducing a miscarriage.

Unfortunately for Tegan and Sergie, Queensland’s Criminal Code makes an abortion lawful only where it is performed by a doctor and where there is a serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother. That means that this couple are now facing the prospect of years behind bars when they should be enjoying the best years of their life.


I do not believe this was the best, or even an appropriate response to the actions of a frightened young woman. Tegan has suffered enough already without a prison sentence running another wrecking ball through her life.

Queensland needs, for once, to be a leader in law reform and follow in the footsteps of Victoria in decriminalising abortion.

This is not an article about whether abortion is good or bad or whether people should be pro-choice or pro-life or pro-anything else. This is about whether the response we have in place right now achieves anything at all, no matter which camp you fall into.

So what exactly is the justification for our present laws?

The main reason usually given by the majority in Parliament who support them is that they act as a deterrent to increasing abortion rates. However, there seems to be little empirical evidence to back up this rationale.

First, criminalisation doesn’t address the root causes of abortion. According to a 2005 study in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the top reasons women in the United States chose to terminate their pregnancies included interference with their work, education or ability to care for dependants (74 per cent), financial constraints (73 per cent) and the prospect of single motherhood or relationship problems (48 per cent).


Perhaps a more effective means of reducing abortion rates would be to address these issues, rather than punishing women after the fact. Looking at these numbers, it seems that advocates of the current laws would be better served by promoting paid maternity leave, better support for school-age mums and eliminating the social stigma of single motherhood than supporting prison sentences. Even simply working towards improving sexual education in our society and increasing women’s access to contraception would make an important difference without any need for criminal convictions.

Second, removing the current laws would not necessarily result in any increase in abortion rates.

In fact, a 2001 study in the European Journal of Public Health on the decriminalisation of abortion in Spain has shown that removing a criminal penalty did nothing to affect trends in abortion rates. All that changed, the authors conclude, was a reduction in, “the inequalities implied by a lack of access to proper health care services”.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

46 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Elizabeth Mathews is a Policy Offer at Left Right Think-Tank, Australia’s first independent and non-partisan think-tank of young minds.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 46 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy