The couple, from this city of about 150,000 people in the state of Queensland on the northeast coast, did not want to go through a surgical abortion. They decided to use Misoprostol and RU486 at home.
They were charged under two archaic abortion-related provisions of Queenslands criminal code, established in 1899. Leach was charged with self-administering a noxious substance to induce an abortion, which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison. Brennan was charged for his role in obtaining the drug. He faced a three-year sentence.
The drug RU486 was banned in Australia until 2006 and access remains restricted today. Only four doctors in all of Queensland are licensed to prescribe RU486. Not aware the drugs were available in Australia, Brennan had them sent by relatives in Ukraine.
A 1969 common law decision in the state of Victoria followed by a 1971 ruling in New South Wales, broadly defined lawful abortions, changing medical practice across Australia. A 1986 Queensland court decision upheld these precedents. However in Queensland, as well as most other states, provisions on unlawful abortion were left in the criminal codes.
In recent years abortion has been decriminalized in the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, and Victoria, but in the latter two states new laws restricting abortions were adopted in the process.
An estimated 90,000 abortions are performed nationwide each year, including 14,000 in Queensland. Medicare, the national health insurance plan, subsidizes abortions.
The prosecutions evidence against Leach and Brennan included videotaped police interviews. On the tape Leach explained that she decided to have an abortion because she wasnt ready for a child.
The jury of eight women and four men took less than one hour to unanimously find the couple not guilty.
I think this sends a clear message that not even a jury is willing to convict on these charges, Kate Marsh, of Children by Choice, told reporters. This is not the end, the end will be when they take the entire thing out of the criminal code.
On the street in front of the courthouse ProChoice Cairns organized daily protests. In the days leading up to the trial womens rights groups organized rallies in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne demanding the abortion charges be dropped.
A recent poll published in the Medical Journal of Australia said that 87 percent of Australians believe abortion should be legal in the first trimester.
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