Outdated laws lag behind medicine
Abortion is a common, publicly subsidised medical procedure which is estimated to be the outcome of one in four pregnancies in Australia. However, the law is seriously lagging behind other developed countries in regulating reproductive medicine says La Trobe University’s Associate Professor Dr Kerry Petersen.
Dr Petersen, from La Trobe’s School of Law, says the law needs urgent reform in order to discourage women from taking a step backwards into the ‘backyard abortion’ of yesteryear.
She draws on a recent Queensland verdict – R v Brennan and Leach – where a woman was charged with procuring her own abortion. The woman’s partner had accessed drugs, Mifepristone and Misoprotol, from a relative in the Ukraine to administer an abortion without seeking medical assistance. He was charged with supplying drugs to procure an abortion.
‘The couple were found not guilty because the law prohibits women from attempting to administer a ‘noxious’ thing to abort a pregnancy. The term ‘noxious’ in the charge refers to a harmful way to induce an abortion, however Mifepristone combined with Misoprostol is used worldwide and is regarded as a safe and effective method for medical abortions’ says Dr Petersen.
Developed by a French pharmaceutical company in the early eighties, these drugs are widely accepted, however, few doctors in Queensland have prescribing rights. This has made access to the drug difficult. Internet trafficking has become a response by some in order to obtain the drugs.
‘This is a step backwards into the ‘backyard’ abortion of yesteryear. Half of the drugs obtained over the internet, according to the World Health organisation, are counterfeit which could pose a threat to a woman’s health,’ Dr Petersen says.
The developments of new methods for abortion are in contradiction with the outdated laws in Queensland as seen in this case. If another woman were to source the drugs through the internet, they might not be so lucky because there is no way to tell the integrity of a drug purchased online she says.
Dr Petersen says an intelligent response is necessary to protect women’s health. This would include repealing inappropriate and ineffective abortion laws, introducing policies aimed at reducing the incidence of unintended pregnancies and abortions, and removing administrative barriers which control the availability of the drugs.
‘If more general practitioners were permitted to prescribe Mifepristone and Misopristol and organise follow-up care, it is unlikely that many women would have any need to tap into irregular sources. The State of Queensland has put two young people through an unnecessary and gruelling trial because of obsolete abortion laws which lack regulatory legitimacy,’ says Dr Petersen.
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