Locking up pregnant women

Date January 16, 2013

Amy Gray

Queensland’s Child Protection Inquiry has received a submission from the Queensland Police Union (QUPE) advocating that pregnant women who use drugs and alcohol should be locked up or placed under conditions to protect their unborn babies.

Inside the nine page document are a series of recommendations of changes to be made to the Child Protection Act, chiefly concerned with the QUPE complaining at having to do DoCs work and their plans to regulate all those wayward pregnant women.

As they state in their submission, the part of the Act which pertains to the rights and liberties of a pregnant woman “needs to be abolished.” A woman is now considered secondary to the pregnancy she carries.

 The QUPE calls on the inquiry for the rights to:

  • request intervention orders against pregnant women
  • take the mother into care pending birth
  • impose forced medical check ups
  • impos[e] conditions on the mother during the pregnancy, which may extend to where she resides and who she has contact with during her pregnancy

In case it’s not clear, the Queensland Police Union would like to start rounding up, monitoring and curtailing the personal choices and liberties of pregnant women.

Though this organisation has delivered a shoddily presented and ill-conceived set of recommendations to a panel, it does not mean it will be accepted or, even if it is, inquiry recommendations are often left to mould on shelves without adoption. So far, so ineffectual. What is newsworthy here is how the Queensland Police Union, whose members protect and defend their state, view women. And they don’t view them well at all.

Socially, this is not news for women. With every chastisement, unsolicited recommendation and unbidden hand that launches at our bellies, we’ve long known we were pregnancy-policed by the public. Now it appears real police would like to get in on the fun and tell us that we are hosts for the child – not a mother growing dependent life, not even two parties: we are the lesser life form because it’s all about the baby.

Helpfully, the Queensland Police Unionclarifies that it is not calling for anti-abortion laws, which must be a blessing for those living in a state with ambiguous abortion laws at best. Because it’s never a legal slipperly slope for female body autonomy when you request the legal rights of a woman be removed, right?

Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that this recommendation comes from the same union that complains about the workload of administrative duties relating to investigating children at risk and sex offenders in the community.

Instead, let us focus on the impact of this decision for women within society within the framework of statistics.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in their Drugs in Australia 2010 report state that “Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use was significantly lower among pregnant women than women who were not pregnant. The proportion of pregnant women smoking has declined from 2001 to 2010.“

The report lists the findings of a National Drugs Strategy Household Survey which found that alcohol consumption amongst pregnant women dramatically drops, with 48.9 % abstaining completely, 48.7 reducing their alcohol intake and 2.0% maintaining their existing drinking (the level of which is not verified). Only 0.2% of respondents increased their intake of

When it comes to illicit drug use, 8.3% of women who were pregnant and/or breastfeeding in the past 12 months admit to the use of cannabis, pharmaceutical for non-medicinal purposes and other illicit drugs. Bear in mind that this figure includes women who had used drugs prior before they knew they were pregnant and, according to the report, “are significantly lower than for other women in the community”.

Bearing in mind the above statistics, if a system exists that penalises and curtails a pregnant woman for drug or alcohol issues, how likely would a woman be to actually seek assistance for the matter? The fear of being taken into ‘care’, restricted from seeing people she knows and other restrictions would prevent her from seeking the help she may need.

Karen Healy, President of the Australian Association of Social Workers agrees. In an interview with the Australian, she branded the proposal “concerning” and that “It could lead to women not disclosing they are using drugs to medical practitioners…It may actually reduce the capacity of medical professionals to monitor these children.”

So, not only would this recommendation actually not prevent the risky behavior, it could potentially not only drive it underground but also scare women away from support.

So, who will think of the babies, you ask? Who will protect them from their mothers? There is no doubt there are at risk pregnancies – but they are not widespread  and policing and punishment won’t help. Only rational programs and support will. There is no doubt this is a complex area but if we don’t learn from the horrors of past generations, we will never solve problems for the future.

Consider also the implications of who would be under review should this recommendation become enacted. Will it be across all classes? Or will only women from lower-socio economic backgrounds be targeted?

As stereotypes and our national sport of bogan-bashing goes, poorer people are often depicted as drinking more than any other class in Australia. This is a particularly curious stereotype given statistical analysis shows that personal income rises, so too does alcohol consumption across both genders. (Drinking Patterns in Australia 2001-2007, Australian Institute Health and Welfare). One can’t shake the feeling these desired powers would be used almost exclusively against lower socio-economic brackets.

The more troubling aspect of this recommendation is disturbing matter of race that underpins it all. As part of the Inquiry’s aims, the Commissioner has called for recommendations to “reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system”.

So, is it a logical conclusion that the Queensland Police Union would apply these requested powers over the same over-represented community? That the focus of this would be of pregnant women of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage?

It is our indigenous communities who face the most intervention and there is no doubt there are challenges and problems for them, just as with many other Australians. But legislating against them (again) will not work, nor does the evidence show that it ever has worked.

The report from Queensland’s Child Protection Inquiry is due in April, a month before National Sorry Day. People around the country will gather to remember the apology from five years ago. It is a time when we recall the horrors suffered by Australia’s indigenous population. A population who still suffer from reduced education, health, social and economic opportunities than other Australians. A population whose children were stolen from them in an effort to make them assimilate and disappear into Australia’s population. A population targeted by the Queensland Police Union and other groups who still want to curtail their liberty and take their children.

What is the point of saying sorry if we keep trying to make the same mistake?

by Rachel Watts

Whatever happens inside a person, is that person’s business. It’s a fairly straightforward concept.

A WA proposal to introduce foetal homicide laws, indirectly sets up a competing set of rights that patronise women.

In response to the assault of a woman in Western Australia, which ended her eight-month pregnancy, WA Attorney General Christian Porter announced last month he would pursue legislation to strengthen penalties available in cases of assault of a pregnant woman that causes the death of a foetus. While violence against women should be treated as a serious criminal matter, Mr Porter said, should that violence result in the loss of a pregnancy the law should recognise the emotional trauma that would cause.

Mr Porter also said it would not be intended to use such laws to restrict access to abortion by stealth.

“The proposed legislation will be drafted to require an unlawful act to be done to the mother before any penalty can apply,” he said.

By contrast, a WA Opposition discussion paper released last week demanded greater steps be taken to enforce Apprehended Violence Orders, with electronic monitoring, among a range of other proposals to prevent, punish and limit the damage of domestic violence.

If a woman is beaten so severely that a foetus dies, that is a serious assault upon that woman. We live in a society in which domestic violence is still shockingly commonplace. Too many women are failed by the systems in place to protect them. Too many women are faced with the choice between staying in a violent relationship and homelessness. Introducing new laws specifically to better punish those who harm women enough to cause a pregnancy to end is further failing those women. While the heartbreak is beyond imagining, legislation covering what happens inside a woman’s body will do precisely nothing to prevent violence inflicted upon her.

Even if it did, if we can’t protect existing humans, what hope do we have protecting something as difficult to define as preborn life?

By restricting the legislation to cases of an “unlawful act”, Mr Porter said the legislation did not propose to limit women’s right to make her own choices. But everyone tries to affect a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy. Colleagues, doctors and complete strangers in the street reserve the right to – at a glance – assess a woman’s decisions, behaviours and capacity to be a parent.

So it should surprise no-one that the aims of the legislation as explained by Porter didn’t stop the immediate band-wagoning of organisations like the Right to Life Association and the Australian Medical Association.

The former, fairly predictably, demands that since we’re discussing foetal personhood, surely we should acknowledge abortion as being the death of a person. The latter demands we also consider punishing pregnant women who are “reckless” or who choose the circumstances under which they give birth, in the same way as for neglecting if not endangering a person.

Talk about affecting a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy. Every available option is damned including soft cheese. Which for some is life’s only solace.

Defining a foetus as a person whose life is valued at the same order of magnitude as the woman carrying it opens up a balancing act of rights. That anyone advocates charging women with a criminal offence should they choose to give birth at home, drink alcohol, or eat something ill-advised reveals the lack of trust society has in the judgement of women. It isn’t respecting women to value their uterus above everything else.

The question of when life begins will not be solved by laws or consensus. The way to give the best and most individual care for both women and babies is simple, trust women. Any attempt to punish “reckless mums” or to limit access to abortion prejudicially targets the most marginalised women. Because based on attributes like race, relative wealth and education, society has already decided it can’t trust them. If, as the AMA suggests, this law is extended to “reckless mums”, where does it stop? Will she be turned away from a delicatessen counter for her own good? Will a woman’s decisions after birth, when or if she goes back to work or how long she breastfeeds for also be grounds for charges? What about before pregnancy? Will a woman’s behaviour leading up to conception be considered inadequate to offer the very best in-utero accommodation for the foetus? In which case what about contraception? Will women, already subject to hurdles should they decide to terminate a pregnancy, be charged should they pursue that right enshrined by WA law? If doctors can’t all agree, who will be the arbiter? Shouldn’t it be the woman whose body we are discussing?

Assault on a woman is the result of someone else’s choice to be violent. Defining a foetus as a person does not address that choice. Women should not have to be deferential to society about the functions of their bodies. Women should know that should someone inflict violence upon her, pregnant or not, they will be dealt with seriously not because of a foetus within her, but because she has the same right as anyone else to live in peace and without fear.

Rachel Watts is a Perth journalist, the editor of a suburban newspaper and social media editor. Follow her on Twitter @wattsuppussycat

Abortion clinic calls for protester exclusion zones

Julia Medew

October 18, 2010

THE East Melbourne abortion clinic where a security guard was murdered nine years ago has called for the Victorian government to create exclusion zones around all such clinics to prevent protesters from harassing patients and staff.

A psychologist who works at the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne, Dr Susie Allanson, said that since abortion was decriminalised in 2008, protesters from The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants had continued to hound people as they entered and left her workplace on Wellington Parade.

She said clinic staff had called the police and Melbourne City Council almost daily to respond to complaints about the protesters, who thrust pamphlets at patients while telling them not to kill their babies.

”Sometimes patients are in tears when they come in and we’ve had a partner [of a patient] assault one of them once because he felt so threatened,” Dr Allanson said.

The protesters also seemed to attract mentally ill people, Dr Allanson said, increasing fear within the clinic.

”They attract all sorts of unbalanced individuals. The gunman who killed our security guard in 2001 stood with them on a couple of occasions and their rhetoric about us being murderers just gives rationale for them to take the next step,” she said.

A spokesman for the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, Ben O’Brien, said his group had not harassed anyone, and that many women had benefited from the group’s presence outside the clinic for many years.

He said he did not know of any protesters who would cause people to feel unsafe and that the call for an exclusion zone was unwarranted.

”This is a threat to people’s freedom,” he said.

Three years ago, the Melbourne City Council agreed to use its bylaws to fine protesters who harassed women outside the clinic, but Dr Allanson said it had not deterred the protesters.

She said it was time to create an exclusion zone around the clinic and others across the state to balance people’s rights.

The call follows a recommendation from the Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2008 for the state government to consider a legislative response to the issue.

Dr Allanson said various government departments and ministers had also indicated to her before abortion was decriminalised that the issue of protesters would have to wait until the law had changed.

”All we want is for the protesters to be moved to the other side of Wellington Parade so they can still protest but they’re not in women’s faces … The authorities are totally privileging these people’s right to protest over women’s privacy and their right to feel safe and to not be harassed,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the government would not comment on whether it was considering exclusion zones for abortion clinics and said protesters in East Melbourne were a local government issue.

”These are very contentious issues but every Victorian, regardless of their viewpoint, should be treated with dignity and respect,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Melbourne City Council said it had no power to move people conducting peaceful protests.

She said council officers had attended the Fertility Control Clinic regularly for several years and had issued ”numerous warnings” to the protesters, asking them to voluntarily comply with the law.

Two infringements had also been issued outside the clinic in recent weeks, she said, for the persistent use of an unauthorised sign.


The charges brought against a young couple from Queensland for taking the RU486 pill have dangerous ramifications for all Australian women, writes Samantha Campbell.

The Women’s Abortion Action Campaign (WAAC) is continuing its campaign of defence and support for the young Cairns couple who go to trial on 12 October 2010, charged under archaic abortion laws that still exist under the Queensland criminal code.

In 2009 the woman had a medical abortion at home using RU486 and misoprostol, drugs that were obtained from her partner’s relatives in the Ukraine along with doctor’s instructions for their use.

She faces seven years in prison and he faces three.

Whilst access to RU486 is restricted, due to strict control by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, it remains a legal drug in Australia for the purpose of medical abortion.

RU486 remains restricted because, as yet, no pharmaceutical company has applied to import and distribute it within Australia.

This leaves individual doctors the time consuming responsibility of having to apply to the TGA directly to be able to obtain and prescribe the drug for their patients.

These problematic circumstances ensure limited access to medical abortion with the use of RU486 for Australian women. RU486 is both legal in Australia and safe to use – with complications akin to that of a spontaneous miscarriage – and is available in about 35 other countries including the United States and France where it accounts for roughly one-third of abortions.

RU486 is a valid and safe option for abortion that should be widely available to Australian women in an effort to promote safe and affordable options for women seeking an abortion.

Abortion in Australia is legal, established by common law rulings in Queensland in 1986 and in NSW in 1971 that gave provisions for “lawful” abortions in cases where the woman’s physical or mental health are at risk from continuation of the pregnancy.

Provisions for abortion have also been made to include financial and social grounds for abortion at the discretion of individual doctors. Abortion is subsidised by a Medicare rebate and in that respect is recognised as a medical procedure.

The issue then ignites when abortion is treated with distinct difference from any other medical procedure under the law. Abortion is a medical procedure and should not be categorised differently in any legislation. All abortion laws should be repealed.

While the trial for the Cairns couple essentially remains a Queensland issue, the ramifications of charges brought under these archaic laws threaten all Australian women.

Abortion also remains within the NSW criminal code and while this is so, NSW women are at risk of similar prosecution and treatment to that received by the Cairns couple.

The dangerous contradiction between the law and state criminal codes in Australia presents a misleading reality for Australian women who believe they have complete legal access to abortion.

The legality of abortion in Australia is haunted by the fallacy of freedom of choice for women’s bodies by outdated sections of state criminal codes that remain ignorant to the needs and demands of Australian women.

The Women’s Abortion Action Campaign (WAAC NSW), alongside the Pro-Choice Action Collective (PCAC QLD) and Radical Women (VIC), are calling for all charges against the Cairns couple to be dropped.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Queensland state ministers have been repeatedly called upon to action the release of the couple from these charges.

In response, Anna Bligh and the Queensland state government claim that the case relates to the illegal method in which the abortion drugs were obtained.

Why then have the couple been charged under the sections of the criminal code specific to abortion?

The Queensland government has attempted to distract the facts of the case and the issue at the heart of these charges with claims of illegal importation, despite the clear charge of the couple under state abortion laws, not drug importation laws.

The Queensland government also maintained that the charges against the couple are valid despite the absence of proof that the woman was pregnant or that the drugs were used to cause a miscarriage; all they required was an ‘intent’ to procure a miscarriage in order for the couple to be charged under the state criminal code.

It is essential to acknowledge the absurdity of these charges and to rise together as a nation in solidarity with the mistreated couple.

This case is not isolated to Queensland as the Bligh government may intend to direct it, rather it raises a national issue for the protection of abortion rights in Australia and a woman’s right to choose.

Call to action: National rallies on Saturday 9 October 2010

The trial date for the Cairns case has been set to begin on 12 October 2010 and WAAC in NSW, alongside PCAC in Queensland and Radical Women in Victoria, are co-ordinating a National Day of Action on Saturday 9 October 2010 in solidarity with the Cairns couple.

We are calling for the Queensland government to drop all charges against the couple and repeal all abortion laws.

This national day of protest will unite supporters of abortion rights and draw attention to the archaic laws that in the 21st century still stipulate abortion as a crime. Never again should any woman in Australia be subject to the trauma faced by the Cairns couple for exercising every woman’s right to choose.

It is important for Australian women to recognise the unjust treatment of the Cairns couple and unite in making our voices heard.

The government needs to hear, loud and clear, that we do not accept the prejudiced treatment of abortion in current legislation, we do not accept any place for law in the decisions we as women make over our own bodies, we do not accept any mockery of the campaigning of our foremothers for abortion rights and we cannot allow the prosecution of the Cairns couple to take place and threaten our freedom of choice.

Visit the WAAC website for details of times and places for the national rallies on 9 October 2010.

Samantha Campbell is a student at Macquarie University studying a BA in Gender Studies. She has been involved in WAAC for seven months, contributing to efforts that support abortion rights.

Believe it or not, abortion is still illegal in most of Australia! And a young

couple in Cairns, Queensland is being prosecuted for “procuring” an

abortion through the use of RU-486, a drug that is commonly prescribed

in the U.S. For decades, Australian officials didn’t take action against

women who chose to terminate a pregnancy. But under pressure of the

international “Right to Life” movement, including groups that originate in the

U.S., the right of women to control their own bodies is under tremendous


Radical Women in Melbourne, Australia is part of a nationwide organizing

effort to get the charges dropped against the Cairns couple and to get anti-

abortion laws off the books. You can help by signing the online petition at

Please forward this message to your friends and promote it on your Facebook and

MySpace pages and Twitter account. The deadline for signatures is

October 1.

To read more about this issue and the October 9 National Day of Action

Rallies in Australia, please visit the Radical Women website at

There you can download a petition to circulate, endorse the nationwide Day of Action,

and read more about the Cairns case. A recent article on the case is also

on a recent Ms. Magazine blog at Ms. Magazine blog! See


To donate to the Melbourne organizing, please click here to contribute via


Thank you for spreading the word and helping our sisters Down-Under win

the fight for reproductive justice.

In struggle,

Anne Slater

National Organizer

U.S. Radical Women

National Radical Women

625 Larkin St. Ste 202, San Francisco, CA 94109

Phone 415-864-1278 * Fax 415-864-0778

The impending trial of a young Queensland woman for allegedly illegally aborting her pregnancy has no precedent in Australia.

The finding by prominent obstetrician and abortion law reform campaigner Caroline de Costa reinforces how intensely the prosecution of Tegan Leach and her partner, Sergie Brennan, both of Cairns, will be watched.

The case is due to return to the District Court next month, with Ms Leach charged with attempting to procure an abortion under a 111-year-old provision of the Queensland criminal code, carrying a maximum of seven years’ jail. Mr Brennan is charged with supplying drugs to procure an abortion.

Both have been committed to stand trial.

“Over the past five years, I have been researching the history of abortion in Australia, particularly in Queensland, through medical, legal and police records,” Professor de Costa writes in a new book, Never, Ever, Again.

“My research has not produced a single previous case of a woman being charged with procuring her own abortion since the 1899 (criminal) code was first promulgated (in Queensland).

“What’s more, I have found no evidence that any woman anywhere in Australia has ever been so charged.” Ms Leach is alleged to have terminated her pregnancy in December 2008 with RU486, the abortion drug that could not be brought into the country legally until 2006.

Professor de Costa played an important role in having the ban overturned by federal parliament, and ran the first service using RU486 in Cairns. However, she was not aware of, nor involved in, the couple’s alleged use of an illegally imported batch of the drug.