In the early 1970s Queensland women had very limited access to contraceptive and abortion services. Laws that made abortion a crime in Queensland were still in place, unchanged, since 1899, predating women’s right to vote, gained in 1905. Vasectomy was also illegal. In response to this situation, the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) was established in 1971 to educate women and men about family planning and advance Queensland women’s rights to access safe and legal abortion. On the 19th March 1972, ALRA formed an organisation to provide unplanned pregnancy counselling and assistance for women, to be known as Children by Choice.
Children by Choice quickly moved out from under the wing of the ALRA to independent premises in Red Hill with a full complement of volunteers who were providing counselling and education services to women from around Queensland. A lot of attention followed from the media and anti-choice groups. Bricks were thrown through the windows of our offices and harassment grew bad enough that the police officers in the area would drop in nightly to check the volunteers were safe.
In the 1970s, Children by Choice was providing large numbers of referrals to doctors at St Anne’s Hospital in Sydney, the closest and safest place for Queensland women to receive an abortion. Our volunteer counsellors assisted many women to travel to NSW. We also devoted a large amount of time to campaigning for legislative change; anti-abortion groups responded in kind with debates, marches and demonstrations.
While single mothers were finally entitled to government pension support in 1973, stigma surrounded single parenting and greatly influenced women’s choices on whether of not to proceed with a pregnancy.
During this time Children by Choice received no support, financial or otherwise, from governments of the day. Even doctors who referred patients to the organisation’s services regularly were unwilling to speak out in public due to the social stigma attached to abortion.
From the late 1970s several clinics began to open up in northern New South Wales, and eventually in the Brisbane area, Rockhampton and Townsville. These provided more options for women. In 1984, Children by Choice purchased premises at Windsor, in inner Brisbane, through the efforts of many supporters. However, this positive increase in services was met with a renewed political and media interest in the subject of abortion during the 1980s.
In 1980, a misleading media report and a call to arms by anti-choice groups against a clinic in Greenslopes - the only abortion clinic in Queensland at that stage – led to a growing climate of fear. Then details of a highly restrictive abortion bill being introduced to Parliament were leaked by a courageous female Liberal MP. After a heavy and bitter campaign the bill was narrowly defeated, marking the beginning of an eventful decade. Read an account of the bill and of the formation of Children by Choice in 'The Struggle for Choice', written by Beryl Holmes, one of the founding members of Children by Choice.
In 1985 the Greenslopes clinic endured a series of police raids and prosecutions, resulting in a landmark court decision legalising abortion under common law though it remained in the State’s Criminal Code.
Then, in the late 1980s, our private donations began to dry up. The scarcity of resources forced the Association to consider the closure of the counselling service that had been the backbone of the group since its foundation. Reprieve came in the form of international funding from a major family planning organisation in the United States, along with generous contributions from other community organisations all over Australia. This enabled us to retain our original services and also employ staff rather than relying entirely on volunteers.
In the early 1990s, following the election of the Goss Labor government, Children by Choice received Queensland government funding for our counselling and information services. Finally, local recognition that Queensland women needed a funded independent pro-choice counselling service! Unfortunately, funding insecurity continued with funding withdrawn by the 1996 Liberal National government. Volunteers operating from our owned premises kept the Association viable during this lean time.
When government funding was received again in 1999, Children by Choice sought to re-establish a comprehensive counselling and education service for Queensland women. With rising use of technology and mobile phones, our service adapted to include a detailed website and counselling mainly provided via telephone. The counselling staff pursued a detailed knowledge of Queensland geography and training was offered in regional locations.
In 2006, Children by Choice was one of the key organisations that successfully campaigned to remove the ban on importing RU486, the ‘abortion drug’, into Australia. This paved the way for introduction of medication abortion services into Queensland and then other Australian states.
Throughout the decade, the campaign for paid Maternity leave gathered momentum, and Children by Choice appeared at the Productivity Commission hearing in 2008, and supported the campaign through the National Foundation for Australian Women.
In 2008, Children by Choice co-convened the Abortion in Queensland conference, a gathering of researchers, advocates and abortion providers.
In 2009-10 abortion once again became the subject of heavy political exchange in Queensland after a young couple was charged under the Criminal Code with procuring a medical abortion. After the couple went into hiding Children by Choice became one of the first points of contact for the veritable media storm that surrounded the case. The trial ran for three days before the jury returned a not guilty verdict for both defendants after less than an hour of deliberation.
This decision prompted much debate between medical and legal professionals about the legality of medical abortion in Queensland. However, even during the trial, many Queensland politicians refused to consider or even discuss the need for legal reform despite the persecution of the young couple involved and doctors in public hospitals restricting their provision of services following the charging of the couple. Despite overwhelming public support and pressure from health and medical professionals, both the Queensland Labor Government and the Liberal National Party Opposition refused to act to remove abortion as a criminal offence.
The limited success in achieving law reform must be seen in the light of the 200,000 women and families who have been assisted by Children by Choice in some way since its foundation. There has been increase in awareness unplanned pregnancy around both the need for more prevention through contraception and sexuality education, alongside access to safe and legal abortion as an option for women. Along the way, Children by Choice’s state, national and international profile has grown significantly. In our fortieth year, we continue our service to women and advocacy for women’s reproductive health through the combination of skilled and dedicated staff, wonderful and reliable volunteers, and passionate and generous supporters.