Abortion Legalized in Queensland, Australia
The state parliament of Queensland, Australia voted to legalize abortion on October 17. The historic legislation comes as follow-through on promises made by Palaszczuk, leader of the Labor Party. She has been Premier of Queensland since 2015. She is also the first Australian premier to hold a majority female ministry. The new legislation would erase a section of the criminal code which deemed “termination of pregnancy” an “offence against morality.” Under this law, people seeking abortions faced the possibility of criminal prosecution.
The current premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the code was written before women had the right to vote. Grace Grace, ALP Education and Industrial Relations Minister, added that the criminal code was written before Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had votes in the house. The new legislation took two days in the house to be passed. The emotional debate saw tears from many MPs, and centred around the need for equity in reproductive health rights and full autonomy for people with uteruses over their own bodies. The anti-choice opposition was equally passionate, citing murder and the possibility of eugenics as claims against the legislation. The debate resulted in a final vote of 50 for and 41 against, with one abstaining vote. The majority of those voting against the bill were male.
Abortion will now be legal until 22 weeks of gestation, and after that point will be legal with approval from two doctors. Clinics will be required to establish safe zones, in order to restrict protesters and people seeking to harass staff and patients from coming within 150 metres of clinics. While doctors will still be allowed to individually refuse to treat an abortion patient on moral grounds, they will be legally required to refer her to another medical practitioner.
Tunisia Criminalizes Racism
On October 9, Tunisia approved legislation criminalizing racist speech, incitement to hatred, and discrimination. The law passed almost unanimously, with 125 votes for, one against, and five abstaining. “This is a very important turning point in the history of Tunisia, equivalent to the abolition of slavery,” said Messaoud Romdhani, head of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights. Though activist groups have pressured the government to put anti-racist legislation in place for years, political support for this increased exponentially in 2016. On Christmas Day that year, three Congolese students were stabbed on a train. The crime was likely motivated by racism, and sparked outrage across the country. Afterwards, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed expressed his support for anti-racism legislation.
The law is being considered a historic step in protecting minority rights for Black Tunisians and sub-saharan Africans, who collectively make up 10-15 per cent of the population. Recent survey data indicated that Black Tunisians are socio-economically disadvantaged compared to other Tunisians as a result of systemic discrimination and racial biases.
Legislators have indicated that putting the legislation into practice to enact a culture shift is an important step to eliminate this gap. Under the newly passed legislation, use of racist language can result in a 1,000 dinar fine (approximately $462 CAD), or offenders being jailed for up to a month. Incitement to hatred, making racist threats, spreading or advocating racism, and belonging to a group which supports discrimination, are each punishable by one to three years in prison and fines of up to 3,000 dinars. To fulfill its own mandate and educate the public, a National Commission Against Racial Discrimination will be tasked with conducting awareness and training campaigns.