A Queensland woman diagnosed with schizophrenia has been denied an abortion for an unwanted twin pregnancy because a tribunal ruled she did “not have the capacity to make complex decisions about all of her personal matters due to her diagnosed mental illness.”
The 33-year-old woman, known as QDB, is living at a mental health facility and undergoing treatment for schizophrenia after being jailed for breaching bail conditions involving drug use, reports the ABC.
She applied for special consent to terminate her high-risk twin pregnancy at 20 weeks because she did not want anymore children and her parents did not think their daughter was capable of looking after children.
QDB has a history of mental illness, drug use, is Hepatitis C positive and is a moderate to heavy smoker. Under the Mental Health Act, she is a classified patient with no legal capacity, and as such, has been appointed a public guardian to make legal and health care decisions on her behalf, reports Buzzfeed News.
The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) can decide whether classified patients can make a decision to have an abortion, which is only lawful in Queensland if a doctor believes “a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger.”
The tribunal consulted with doctors who agreed that the QDB’s pregnancy was “a higher risk than a normal pregnancy” because of her history of drug use, Hepatitis C diagnosis and low-lying placenta.
In a worst-case scenario, QDB was at risk of developing a complication that could result in her death, said the doctors.
Despite the evidence given, the QCAT ruled that QDB did not have the capacity to make the decision to terminate her pregnancy and said “there is not evidence before us of serious danger to [the woman’s] life or physical or mental health if the pregnancy was to continue and therefore consent to termination of pregnancy cannot be given.”
Abortion up to and beyond 20 weeks is legal in Victoria, the Northern Territory and South Australia. This case is just one example of the archaic Queensland abortion laws that were established in 1899, says Kate Marsh, a spokesperson for Children By Choice in Queensland.
“Most healthcare professionals consider the threshold that needs to met for an abortion to be considered lawful quite unclear. There’s no legal definition of what a ‘serious risk’ to health might look like,” she says.
Children By Choice regularly supports women who have not met the ‘serious risk’ threshold, including women who are pregnant as a result of sexual assault. “That’s not deemed to be a big enough risk to their physical and mental health by the person that they’re talking to at the hospital,” says Marsh, who recalls other cases where women have been hospitalised with broken bones and severe injuries because of violence from the man involved in their pregnancy, only to be told the risk to their life is not severe enough for the hospital to provide them with a termination.
Marsh says the current Queensland legislation needs to be updated to reflect the times. “Things have come a long way since 1899, including the medical practice. Abortions in Australia are one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures and also one of the safest,” she says. “And then there are the societal changes; attitudes towards women’s roles have changed and the vast majority of the community support women’s access to abortion.”
There is currently a movement in Queensland to modernise the abortion laws, with the Law Reform Commission conducting an enquiry and reporting back to the Queensland parliament in June next year.
“It’s our hope that their legislation will be much more reflective of the laws in most other jurisdictions around Australia,” says Marsh. “Bringing abortion out of the criminal code would not only bring it in to line with contemporary medical practice, but also community expectation.”
Pro Choice Queensland is running a campaign called ‘It’s Not 1899: Abortion Should Not Be A Crime.’
You can follow the campaign here: www.facebook.com/prochoiceqld/