Newsflash: Australian Couple Awaits Trial for Abortion

In Cairns, Queensland, a 20-year-old woman is being prosecuted for intending to terminate her pregnancy. Tegan Leach and her partner, Sergie Brennan, 22, are expected to stand trial on October 12 for importing the abortion drugs RU486 and Misoprostol from Ukraine in order to terminate Leach’s pregnancy (in December 2008). While police did not prove the toxicity of the drugs, the empty packets supposedly proved an intent to miscarry. In the last 25 years, Leach is the first woman to be charged with intent of abortion in Australia.

The last charge of unlawful abortion in the country was in 1986,  R v Bayliss and Cullen. Dr. Peter Bayliss and Dr. Dawn Cullen were charged with procuring illegal abortions after the clinic they worked at was raided. They were found not guilty.

In the latest case, Leach could spend up to seven years in jail if convicted, while Brennan would serve a lesser charge of up to three years for supplying the drugs. They say they were unaware that they had broken any laws.

Under Australian law, it is a crime to have an abortion, perform one or have the intent to abort, although it is not a crime in cases when a woman’s health is in danger. Until now, however, the government has turned a blind eye to the abortion law.

Pro-choice groups in Queensland are speaking out against the trial and the effects it could have on abortion legislation. Kathy Newnam, spokeswoman for Pro-Choice Action Collective told The Australian:

This case threatens to set a dangerous new precedent on the abortions laws, and supporters of abortion rights are determined to build a campaign that the Bligh government [for the state of Queensland] cannot ignore.

Even anti-abortion groups are not supporting Leach’s trial. Alan Barker of Cherish Life Queensland stated that this prosecution was a victimization of women who had had an abortion.

Women’s groups globally are rallying around Leach and Brennan in order to get the charges dropped. An online petition from Radical Women of Australia and Radical Women of the United States supporting the couple is asking for signatures by October 1. On October 9, Radical Women Australia will protest at the Parliament House in Melbourne to stop the abortion prosecution and link it to the other inequalities that women are facing. Visit Radical Women for more information and how you can participate.

Photo from Flickr user Daquella manera under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. A Queenslander says:

    This case took place in Queensland.
    Queensland law at the time of the events in question states:
    "A person is not criminally responsible for performing in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation upon any person for the patient’s benefit, or upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life, if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and to all circumstances of the case."

    A year ago, after concerns were raised by medical abortion providers that the case in question might be used as precedent, this section was changed to read:
    "A person is not criminally responsible for performing or providing, in good faith and with reasonable care and skill a surgical operation on or medical treatment of:
    a) a person or unborn child for the patient’s benefit; or
    b) a person or unborn child to preserve the mother’s life;
    if performing the operation or providing the medical treament is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and to all circumstances of the case."

  2. Thank you for covering this important case. Good to have the online petition that Radical Women started so women around the world can do something to help. Amazing that abortion is illegal in Australia; many of us in the U.S. have long thought Australia to be a "progressive" country in so many other ways.

    • This article paints an incorrect picture of Australia. Procuring an abortion is not difficult; I went to my local abortion clinic and produced my medicare card and I was fine.

      Abortions are performed all of the time. The law is outdated and most people are simply unaware it even exists in the form that it does, given the pro-choice attitude of most Australians (related to Australia being a less religious country than the U.S.) The fact that Tegan and Sergie are going to trial is absolutely bizarre and disgusting.

      • As far as I am aware, the couple (along with many QLDers) did not realise that abortion is prohibited in the QLD criminal code, despite, as vomiting mentions, pols consistently reporting that most Australian's are pro-choice. Abortion is accessible, but can still be costly and is largely much more difficult to access in regional areas throughout QLD than in metropolitan centers (along with other health-care services). This is a clear case of democracy not in action – thefact this case has gone to trial shows that reactionary anti-abortion lobbyists hold sway in our 'democratically elected government' and the polices' ever eager thirst to exert their powers over the people.
        It truly is vomit inducing.

      • Christine says:

        Sorry vomiting, I don't think its right to generalise. I believe I speak for the majority of women who have had an abortion when I say that I fell for the 'right to choose' campaign, and had a lot of psychological problems soon after. I developed alcoholism, had suicidal tendencies and cried all the time. Even at 8 weeks old, the baby has a developed feet, hands, arms and a central nervous system with a beating heart. It was the most mentally and physically painful moments of my life, once I committed the abortion, to see small limbs torn apart. To felt that I actually murdered someone. I don't want other women to experience what I've gone through. Women only have the right to choose if their life is in mortal danger. It should be illegal to kill a baby, not only to save women from long-term psychological damage, but also to save the innocent life of the baby. Everyone has a right to live, and I think that should be respected.

        • Corrinne says:

          Really Catherine? I am sorry you experienced that and had a difficult time. However, the majority of women that have abortions do not regret their abortion and in fact are greatful they had the option. I am one of those women, it has been almost 9 years since I had it. I had birth control fail (No, I didn’t use it improperly) and I decided very young that I never wanted kids. I still feel that way today, 26 years old and married. I’ve been with my husband 7 years and we don’t want children. I also have a pretty severe phobia surrounding giving birth and, in part, pregnancy. The short time I was pregnant was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t eat anything and lost an absurd amount of weight.

          If my birth control failed today, I would have another abortion. Just because you regret your choice doesn’t mean everyone does. That is everyone’s own choice to make. I believe that if the fetus cannot feel pain it is perfectly acceptable. If you remove the propaganda and look at the *real* evidence, this does not happen and CANNOT happen until 25 weeks.

      • OldMayfly says:

        vomiting–Yes, I was surprised to read this about Australia, because I always thought of your country as more sensible re religion than the US.

        I remember reading of the headline in one of Australia’s leading newspapers during our US right-wing attack on President Clinton for his dalliance:

        “Thank God, They got the Pilgrims, and We got the Convicts”

        If that isn’t exact, I think it is close. I think it is one of the all-time great headlines in an English-language newspaper.

  3. While it is the case that abortions are conducted, and roughly 1 in 3 Australian women has an abortion, it is also true that abortion remains in the Criminal Code in Qld and in the Crimes Act in NSW. This can have dreadful repercussions for women, especially those who are vulnerable in other ways: young women, women from non English speaking backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, rural and regional women. Lack of accurate information in the mainstream and stigmatising of women who have abortions mean that some women who would like to terminate unwanted pregnancy leave it much later than they would prefer…or leave it altogether. Until abortion has been removed from the Criminal Code, it will not be a woman's right to choose. Tegan Leach and her partner deserve our support and solidarity.

  4. Thanks for this supportive and intelligent article about this very concerning situation in Australia.

    I linked this to my group's Facebook page (Waac NSW) and received a comment from the ProChoice Cairns group, who are supporting repeal of all abortion laws in Queensland.

    They advised that Ms Lynch was charged under section 225 of the QLD crimes code, Mr Brennan was charged under section 226.

    ProChoice Cairns also advise: "The charges were Procuring an abortion and assisting in procuring an abortion not 'importing a drug'. Win news made a big mistake in reporting mis information and now alot of people think they were charged under the customs act – which is wrong."

    I thought it worthwhile advising you, as many people who would be supportive of anyone facing charges for procuring an abortion may well respond negatively to a suggestion of importing drugs (which the couple have NOT been charged with).

    A friend in Queensland has said this is a simple smear being used to make the couple seem less like a very ordinary young pair caught in an unfair situation by archaic laws.

    As long as abortion remains in the criminal codes of most Australian states and territories, the potential abuse of laws such as these means any woman who has an abortion faces the possibility she (and her partner) could find herself in a similar situation.

    The only real solution is to repeal all abortion laws and remove abortion from all criminal codes.

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