Over the weekend news broke that the Republic of Ireland had voted to legalise abortion, marking a monumental victory against traditional Catholicism.
66.4% of the 3.4 million population voted to abolish the current abortion laws which aimed to protect the right to life for the unborn whilst 33.6% of people vowed to continue traditional practice. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has stated that he aims to pass the legislation within six months. Until then, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act will still be honoured.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act stands to honour abortions provided that the expectant mother fits one of three criteria. Risk of loss of life from physical illness, risk of loss of life from physical illness in emergency or a risk of loss of life from suicide are all factors which would see women qualify for the right to terminate their unborn child.
But it poses the question of why women all over the world aren’t free to make their own decision – to end the life of their unborn baby, regardless of the reasoning associated with this deeply personal choice. Understandably, abortion has long been a controversial topic, with two main arguments. Pro-life activists believe that life beings at conception, with foetuses being considered as human beings, thus, they believe that abortion is an act of murder. On the other hand, pro-choice activists support the legalisation of abortion, promoting a belief that women should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
Today in Australia, abortion laws are governed by state and territory laws and therefore women are still not legally allowed to abort in some states. Specifically, in New South Wales and Queensland, women wanting to terminate their pregnancies are at risk of criminal charges.
In Queensland, under the Criminal Code Act 1899, abortion is a crime, with women who unlawfully abort facing a prison sentence of up to seven years, whilst anyone who is found to have unlawfully performed an abortion, facing jail for up to 14 years. Similar to Ireland, Queenslanders are able to terminate pregnancy when a doctor believes that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger.
New South Wales has also listed abortion as a criminal offence since 1900. Following the same laws, the NSW Government implemented a legal precedent which aims to take into consideration social and economic factors. But strangely, in both New South Wales and Queensland, rape, incest and foetal abnormality are not grounds for a lawful abortion.
Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have all legalised abortion with different cut off dates applying.
In Victoria, 24 weeks is the legal timeframe in which women can choose to have an abortion. After 24 weeks, the procedure can still take place with the approval of two different doctors. 16 weeks is the timeframe in Tasmania, with procedures the same as Victoria after that cut-off. The latest time frame is 28 weeks, in South Australia, but must be approved by two doctors who believe that the child could be at risk of a serious abnormality, or if a woman’s health is severely endangered by the pregnancy.
Arguments for pro-life include that every person should have the right to life. The strict abortion law governed in Australia exists to protect the rights of human life, in this case, the most vulnerable. But it has no protection of the vulnerable women, whose circumstances are often overlooked. Why should women be forced to bring a baby into this world if they don’t believe they are able to give it a life that it deserves?
The issue of whether the foetus could be considered as human life is often of most prominence in this argument. Depending on the time of the said termination, many argue that the unborn child is able to feel pain. Others suggest that the foetus is a bunch of cells.
This history making decision in Ireland will no doubt create future calls for discussion into this widely topical issue. Whether you oppose abortion and support a right to life, or whether you favour the legalisation of abortion and support women’s rights, could there be a feasible decision which would support a win-win situation?