Now that abortion probably will be recriminalised in many states in the US, it is worth remembering that, in Australia, abortion was largely or completely removed from the criminal code in the various states and territories between 1998 and 2020.
In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), abortion was decriminalised in 2002. However, from 1994, women in the ACT had enjoyed access to an abortion clinic in Canberra owned and operated by the not-for-profit ACT Family Planning Association (ACT FPA). But in 1998, Paul Osborne, a Catholic independent member of the Legislative Assembly, in a deal with the then Liberal government, was successful in passing legislation that significantly restricted abortion provision. Women had to be given prescribed information, including pictures of aborted foetuses, and a woman had to undergo a 72-hour waiting period between her first visit to the clinic and the procedure1.
This is the sort of activity to which the religious will stoop, as a way of either preventing abortion completely or making it more difficult for women to access. Another tactic they used in the various states and territories was to harass women outside clinics that provided abortions. These were sometimes characterised as ‘prayer vigils’. In the ACT, this led to the government instituting a 50 metre ‘no protest’ zone around clinics that provide abortions. Other jurisdictions have instituted similar no protest zones2.
It almost goes without saying that the conservative free speech warriors were up in arms at this supposed curtailment of free speech. At the time, the Liberal opposition tried to amend the bill to permit ‘peaceful protest’ but were unsuccessful2. It says much about the Liberal Party that they wanted to amend the legislation to allow the religious to protest as they had been doing.
When the decriminalisation of abortion was to be legislated for Queensland, the Liberal National Party (LNP) was granted a conscience vote. However, when three LNP MPs (Jann Stuckey, Tim Nicholls and Steve Minnikin) voted for decriminalisation, they were told that their preselections would be threatened if they broke with one of the party’s “core principles”. Indeed, the three were condemned by then party president Gary Spence. In the aftermath, one of these MPs, Minnikin, found himself the target of an apparent branch stack by a group referred to as the ‘Christian soldiers’. Forty new or transferring members applied to join his electorate branch in late 2018. Party administration intervened to prevent this contest for Minnikin’s preselection3. When is a conscience vote not a conscience vote? When the ‘Christian soldiers’ are involved, it seems.
Protests were organised by several groups when the legislation was set to go before the Queensland parliament. One, by the Cherish Life group, had members of the then federal government and the Queensland LNP speak at the protest. These included Senator Matt Canavan, Dawson MP George Christensen, Senator Amanda Stoker and state MP Mark Robison. Also present was managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Martyn Iles4.
Upon hearing of the US Supreme Court overturning the Roe v Wade ruling, Matt Canavan tweeted:
“A wonderful day to protect human life.”5
State Liberal MP Bernie Finn tweeted:
“My very warmest congratulations to my friends in the United States who have been fighting for years to overturn Roe. Today, I remember those who dedicated their lives to this day – some who are no longer with us. They will be celebrating in Heaven tonight! This is a momentous day for humanity. This will save lives. This is just the beginning. I love ALL babies. We must protect ALL babies!
In a Facebook post, Finn said:
“So excited the US is on the verge of a major breakthrough to civilisation …
Praying it will come here soon. Killing babies is criminal.”6
These religious nutters are still there and the Liberal and LNP parties are replete with them. Be certain that many of them want to recriminalise abortion, and that this will continue on to same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and perhaps even to provision of contraception. While this may sound far-fetched to most Australians, it has actually been mooted by Clarence Thomas7, one of the justices of the US Supreme Court, and given how slavishly the arm-waving Christians in Australia follow their ‘brethren’ in the US, you can bet your house on some of the local nutters believing this to be a sensible course of action.
I doubt that anything as idiotic as this Roe v Wade decision could happen in Australia for two reasons: Firstly, the Australian High Court has not been politicised to anything like the same degree as the US Supreme Court (more on this elsewhere)8. Secondly, the US is five years behind Australia in jettisoning religion. About 45.5% of the Australian populace have no religious affiliation, according to a Roy Morgan survey taken in 20209. A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center, indicated that 29% of the American populace have no religious affiliation10. Australia reached that level around 2016, according to the census11.
While this decline in religion is to a degree comforting, as a buffer against the type of abject religious bastardry afoot in the US, we need to be constantly vigilant because the religious will stop at nothing to get their way, using any subterfuge or criminality. They want dominion over us all, and they will not stop trying to get it.