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Why is protecting life a crime?

By Graham Preston - posted Thursday, 2 December 2004

Consider this scenario. A pregnant woman is walking down the street. A person shouts at her that he intends to kill her unborn child. She runs, but the assailant catches her, and strikes her in the abdomen. The woman receives minor injuries but the child dies in utero resulting in her delivering a dead baby.

In Queensland, such an assailant would be charged under section 313 (2) of the Criminal Code which reads - "Any person who unlawfully assaults a female pregnant with a child and destroys the life of, or does grievous bodily harm to, or transmits a serious disease to, the child before its birth, commits a crime". It could be expected that given the above circumstances, with the child having been killed, the assailant would receive the maximum penalty for this offence, life in prison.

This section was added to the Queensland Criminal Code in 1997. And who could possibly argue against it? It is surely a terrible thing when an assault on a pregnant woman results in the child that she is carrying being killed or injured.


But wait, there is more to the above story. After the assailant has been found guilty and sent to prison, only then is it revealed by the woman that at the time of the assault she had in fact been on her way to the local abortion clinic to have her child’s life ended.

Thus it would be the case that even though an identical outcome would have been arrived at in both scenarios - the child being killed - the person who kills the child would be treated completely differently in each instance.

In the original scenario the one who did the killing of the child would be expected to be sent to jail for life; while in the extended scenario, the one who would have killed the child would have gone unpunished. Indeed, the abortionist would have been paid for carrying out the act.

The only reason that the assailant could have been given such a severe sentence, life imprisonment, for assaulting a pregnant woman would be because the attack took the life of the prenatal child. This section of the Code effectively recognises that a homicide (killing of one human being by another) has taken place. Of course the assailant would also be guilty of committing an assault against the mother, but assault is not an offence that is penalised with life imprisonment.

In the extended scenario also, the child’s life would have been taken, but this time by an abortionist acting at the request of the mother. Thus the only relevant difference between the two scenarios is that in the first the child is killed without the consent of the mother and in the second the child is killed with the consent of the mother.

But can one human being lawfully give consent for an action to be done to another human being, where, merely in the absence of the first person’s consent, such an action would be regarded as a major crime?


For example, imagine a situation where a husband gives consent for a man to rape his wife. If the rapist were to argue in his defence that he had not committed a crime because the victim’s husband had consented to the rape, the argument would be thrown out of court and the rapist into jail - probably along with the husband. Simply because one person has given consent for a criminal act to be done to a second person, such consent does not make the criminal act any less criminal. No one can lawfully consent to the homicide of another human being.

If words mean anything, and if we are to be consistent, then Section 313 (2) of the Queensland Criminal Code should mean that a woman cannot give lawful consent to an abortionist to kill her baby.

We are clearly living with a double standard, for what the present situation boils down to is this: if a woman wants her unborn child, then we recognise that child’s life as having the same value as a born person’s life. If anyone should kill that wanted child they are severely punished.

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About the Author

Graham Preston is an illustrator and a student of life.

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