Saturday 16 October 2010

Saturday SoapBlog: Elizabeth Hulm - The offensive against a woman’s right to choose

As we have seen happen to workers’ rights in this country, women’s rights have also come under attack with the gains of the women’s liberation movement being whittled away.

ELIZABETH HULM, writing in the Communist Party Guardian Worker's Weekly, says the pace has been amped up since the global economic and financial crisis as the state acts to undermine women and devalue their work.

Gender equality, equal pay and equal access threaten the social roles that capitalist society dictates for women – mother, carer and housewife.

The social and economic value for the state of unpaid labour in the home can’t be underestimated and historically during times of crisis the State will act to reinforce conditions that undermine and devalue women, driving down their wages and weakening their position in society which in turn weakens the whole working class.

One of the ways the State subjugates women is by exercising control over women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices.

Threats against abortion have intensified in many developed economies. In January, a woman in the US state of Iowa was charged after falling down stairs and miscarrying. Although the charges were eventually dropped it was not until after she had spent two days in jail. In Utah a new bill was signed into law that effectively opens up the way for women to be charged with murder if they miscarry from an “intentional or knowing act” and across the US many abortion clinics are being closed.

In Australia this has taken an extreme turn in Queensland where abortion laws written in the 19th century that have laid dormant in the criminal code, have been enacted against a young couple in Cairns.

On October 12, a 20-year-old young woman could have faced seven years jail under section 225 in the Queensland Criminal Code, and her boyfriend, up to three years, under section 226, if they were convicted under the archaic abortion laws.

In 2009, after a police raid on their home the Cairns couple were charged with procuring a miscarriage and supplying drugs to procure an abortion after empty packets labelled as abortion drugs were found. Police allege the couple arranged to bring the drug Misoprostol and Mifepristone (RU-486), used in medical abortions, to Australia from the Ukraine. It is further alleged the woman used the drug successfully to terminate her pregnancy at 60 days, after the couple decided they were too young to be parents.

A Cairns magistrate, Sandra Pearson, ruled in September 2009 that there was enough evidence and committed the couple to stand trial. That ruling opened the way for the first prosecution under anti-abortion statutes in 50 years.

Waiting for trial the couple’s lives are on hold and their privacy has been shattered. Despite not being convicted they have suffered vandalism and their property was firebombed after the Cairns Post published their address forcing the couple to relocate.

The Queensland Bligh government and corporate media have maintained a campaign of lies and smokescreens around the case. Attempts have been made to confuse the issue with reports the case is about drugs, because the woman didn’t have a prescription from her local doctor. But the fact is the woman has not been charged under drug-related laws, but under abortion laws.

Other lies include the drug was smuggled into the country when in fact it was brought in through customs; that access to abortion is easy but in Cairns there is an upfront fee of $810 and only a few doctors can currently provide a “medical” abortion because applications to dispense the drug are set up to deter potential applicants and also entail hefty fees.

Also in Cairns, only women with serious medical conditions that would be worsened by pregnancy, and who are referred by their general practitioners, can be considered for the use of mifepristone. The case for medical abortion in Australia has been judged on political grounds rather than on evidence-based criteria and much of the damage was done during the Howard years when Tony Abbott was the Federal Health Minister.

Medical termination of pregnancy using these drugs is widely available to women in the US, UK, much of Western Europe, Russia, China, Israel and New Zealand. It is considered to be safe, effective, cheap to produce and highly acceptable to women. The inequities of access to abortion, which is a critical issue for rural women in Australia and women in some ethnic groups whose access to surgical abortions is limited, could be overcome if Mifepristone were to become widely available.

The Queensland Deputy Premier Paul Lucas has defended the Queensland legislation stating, “procuring an abortion for one’s self”, as has allegedly happened in the Cairns case, is not legal in any state of Australia, which is not true.

Abortion laws across Australia vary greatly with the harshest laws in Queensland, states such as WA have made some legislative changes to make abortion legal until 20 weeks but it is only in the ACT where there are no laws making specific reference to abortion within the Crimes Act, after the procedure was completely legalised in 2000.

Abortion must be removed from the criminal code and be regulated like any other health procedure and the State has no business interfering in the private matter of personal reproduction.

People across Australia joined a National Day of Action last week to defend the couple and the abortion rights that so many fought for against the worst attack in decades that threatens to set a dangerous new precedent on abortion laws and set back women’s access to abortion.
    In Queensland, abortion is a crime under the Queensland Act, although generally regarded as lawful if performed to prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health.

    Abortion is defined as unlawful in the Queensland Criminal Code (1899) under Sections 224, 225 & 226. Women can be criminally prosecuted for accessing abortion:

  • Section 224: Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.

  • Section 225: Any woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether she is or is not with child, unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses any force of any kind, or uses any other means whatever, or permits any such thing or means to be administered or used to her, is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for 7 years.

  • Section 226: Any person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person anything whatever, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is or is not with child, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.


Warren Entsch said...

It's very important jury members realize that perjury and fabricated evidence is how police operate. They compulsively lie. I urge jurys to never convict from police evidence.

Police always lie.

Never convict in a court room. There is no "Law" there only, Satan. Have self respect jurys and never believe police. I urge.

Unknown said...

Common-sense has prevailed - Serg and Tegan were acquitted in less than an hour of jury deliberations. It usually takes at least an hour once a jury has retired before they even consider the case - ordinarily, they spend ten minutes 'electing' a 'foreman', receiving a brief from court staff or the bailiff swallows-up another 20 minutes - the jury room settling-in process includes the bailiff's advice as to when they can expect cups of tea, lunch breaks, which evidentiary documents they can ask for should they wish - and a few other appropriate protocols.

When a jury reaches a verdict in 50 minutes (or was it 15), it should be abundantly clear to the prosecution that the case should never have gone to court in the first place.
The grace and dignity displayed by the defendants throughout is also worthy of comment. This contrasts with the blatant absurdity of advice proffered to the jury (as reported in the local rag) by the prosecution that "they should not make a moral decision".

The prosecution clearly was demanding that jurors ignore any concept of 'what's right and what's wrong' - but instead endorse the letter of a 19th century law. Obviously, the legislators of 1898, when the 'abortion law' was drafted (enacted in 1899), could have no concept of the Queensland citizenry of the 21st. century.

The jurors got it right - but does it automatically give a legal precedent endorsement of "a woman's right to choose", as the sisterhood is claiming ?
Not quite - pro-choice activists appear to have mistakenly placed the lovely Tegan as a lady who, by herself and of her own free will, made the decision to swallow a few RU428s.

This is not quite 'what happened' - in fact, Serg and Tegan, together, made this decision - as a 'loving couple' who were perfectly entitled to decide when, and if, they bring kids in to the world....
There is a significant difference between a woman ALONE choosing to terminate a pregnancy - and a couple jointly doing so.
Granted, the defendants were charged separately - one would hope that this was not a grubby tactic on the part of the police, a despicable attempt to split the couple, hence increasing the chance of getting at least one conviction.

On balance, the jury swiftly, correctly judged the case on it's merits - but given the fact that it was a mutual decision by a couple in a permanent relationship, this case does not serve as a total recedent for open slather on a "woman's right to choose".

But it is, most certainly, a giant step in the right direction for pro-choice advocates, who are to be commended for the support they gave Serg and Tegan.

The reaction to the verdict by our state politicians has been, perhaps predictably, appalling. Clearly this antiquated 19th. Century law should be repealed at once - it won't be: Anna Bligh obviously lacks the gumption to act - and LNP Health Shadow, future leader Tim Nicholls, has come-out defending the efficacy of the ancient law, slagging the defendants in the process.

Disgusting, disgraceful conduct on the part of Nicholls, who would appear to have been catering to the out-dated whims of his National Party back-benchers, many, perhaps most, of whom are themselves 19th century.

chris forsberg bayview heights

Russ Parker said...

So let me get this right Zogo Le; juries should never convict on Police evidence is that what you're saying?

Actually that would certainly streamline the justice system. Those who wished to plead guilty could do so in the Magistrates Court and receive the appropriate penalty. Those who elected to plead not guilty could then have the matter struck out by the magistrate and walk free. Hmmm - can you identify any shortcomings with your system there old mate? No - didn't think so.

Sometimes it's good to be reminded of that valuable old piece of advice gifted to us by Mark Twain, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

But then again Zogo, coming from me, this would be all a lie wouldn't it mate?

Have a great week-end!


KitchenSlut said...

Chris, I don't think you're completely correct on jury procedure. That administrative procedural stuff happens or is sorted after empanelment and during breaks or whatever before the jury retires for final deliberations.

At least that is my memory from jury duty a few years ago now and it's mostly pretty informal and consensus based. What should be said is that many people try to avoid jury duty but I personally found this a very worthwhile experience. Mine was a grievous bodily harm case at a Cape York community and we acquitted as it was clearly not beyond any reasonable doubt, which was actually mostly agreed in the jury room after the second witness but we had to do another day after that. However the experience was insightful.

With regards to the time it takes to make a decision we actually made our decision quickly and then sat around reading magazines for a bit to make it look like we had considered the things the Judge said we should before boredom said bugger it, lets just go out and say so even if it looks too short and sweet.

It is clear that where the case is value based, unlike say murder, whether it be abortion or defamation, a jury is pretty much like a lottery! We call that a justice system?

By the way my two most profound periphal recollections from jury duty were the bailiff sitting down to lunch at the next table to the jury with a local legal identity known for shonky connections and fondness for recreational drugs and jury room reading material including a copy of (now retired)shock jock John Laws 'Uncommon Sense' .... appropriate NOT!