The Pyne bills

In 2016 there were two pieces of legislation introduced to Queensland Parliament by Rob Pyne, Independent MP for Cairns, aimed at decriminalising abortion in this state.

This was the first attempt by any MP in the history of the Queensland Parliament to legislate for legal abortion.

The bills were tabled separately: the first, the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right To Choose) Amendment Bill 2016, was introduced in May and was a straight repeal of the abortion statutes from the Criminal Code; the second, the Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016, was introduced in August and would regulate aspects of abortion under health law, including gestational limits and conscientious objection.

Both bills were referred to the parliamentary Health Committee, but this occurred separately. The Committee’s inquiry into the first bill concluded in August and they recommended that parliament not pass it, due in part to concerns about lack of regulation and gestational limits. The Committee’s inquiry into the second bill finished with the tabling of their report in February 2017, with the Committee finding itself unable to reach an agreement on whether parliament should pass the bill or not.

Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right To Choose) Amendment Bill 2016:

Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016:

The parliament decided that both bills would be debated and voted on together. The Labor Party gave all sitting MPs a conscience vote on both bills; on 27 February, two days before the parliamentary debate was supposed to start, the LNP announced that every sitting MP of theirs would be voting against the bills.

This announcement  effectively meant that the bills would have failed unless every single ALP MP voted in favour of them – an unlikely outcome.

Rob Pyne MP announced the following morning that he would withdraw his two abortion law reform bills from Queensland Parliament.

On the same day, the Attorney-General said the issue will be referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission for inquiry, and that Labor is committed to introducing a bill reflecting the recommendations of the Commission’s inquiry in the next term of government. 

The ABC reported that the Law Reform Commission “would be asked to look at options to remove the termination of pregnancies by medical practitioners from the Criminal Code and to look at a new framework.”

On 21 June 2017 the Queensland Law Reform Commission website published the Terms of Reference for the inquiry into termination of pregnancy. The Commission have been given until 30 June 2018 to report back to parliament on how to clarify and modernise abortion law in Queensland, including drafting legislation in line with their recommendations. The ToR are available to read in full from the Commission’s website, and include the following:

Scope

The Queensland Law Reform Commission is asked to recommend how Queensland should amend its laws relating to the termination of pregnancy to:

  1. Remove terminations of pregnancy that are performed by a duly registered medical practitioner(s) from the Criminal Code sections 224 (Attempts to procure abortion), 225 (the like by women with child), and 226 (Supplying drugs or instruments to procure abortion).
  2. Provide clarity in the law in  relation to terminations of pregnancy in Queensland.

The Queensland Law Reform Commission is asked to prepare draft legislation based on its recommendations.

In providing advice and preparing draft legislation, the Queensland Law Reform Commission should have regard to the following:

  1. Existing practices and services in Queensland concerning termination of pregnancy including those provided by medical practitioners, counsellors and support services.
  2. Existing legal principles relating to termination practices in Queensland.
  3. The Queensland Government’s commitment to modernise and clarify the law in relation to terminations of pregnancy.
  4. The consultation with stakeholders that occurred during the Parliamentary Committee’s consideration of the first and second Bills.
  5. The views of experienced clinical practitioners.
  6. The views of the Queensland community.
  7. Legislative and regulatory arrangements in other Australian and international jurisdictions.

No further information on the structure of the inquiry is yet available.

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