Pregnant woman in silhouette

Pregnant woman in silhouette

Queensland’s Child Protection Inquiry has received a submission from the Queensland Police Union (QUPE) advocating that pregnant women who use drugs and alcohol should be locked up or placed under conditions to protect their unborn babies.

Inside the nine page document are a series of recommendations of changes to be made to the Child Protection Act, chiefly concerned with the QUPE complaining at having to do DoCs work and their plans to regulate all those wayward pregnant women.

As they state in their submission, the part of the Act which pertains to the rights and liberties of a pregnant woman “needs to be abolished.” A woman is now considered secondary to the pregnancy she carries. 

 The QUPE calls on the inquiry for the rights to:

  • request intervention orders against pregnant women
  • take the mother into care pending birth
  • impose forced medical check ups
  • impos[e] conditions on the mother during the pregnancy, which may extend to where she resides and who she has contact with during her pregnancy

In case it’s not clear, the Queensland Police Union would like to start rounding up, monitoring and curtailing the personal choices and liberties of pregnant women.

Though this organisation has delivered a shoddily presented and ill-conceived set of recommendations to a panel, it does not mean it will be accepted or, even if it is, inquiry recommendations are often left to mould on shelves without adoption. So far, so ineffectual. What is newsworthy here is how the Queensland Police Union, whose members protect and defend their state, view women. And they don’t view them well at all. 

Socially, this is not news for women. With every chastisement, unsolicited recommendation and unbidden hand that launches at our bellies, we’ve long known we were pregnancy-policed by the public. Now it appears real police would like to get in on the fun and tell us that we are hosts for the child – not a mother growing dependent life, not even two parties: we are the lesser life form because it’s all about the baby.

Helpfully, the Queensland Police Unionclarifies that it is not calling for anti-abortion laws, which must be a blessing for those living in a state with ambiguous abortion laws at best. Because it’s never a legal slipperly slope for female body autonomy when you request the legal rights of a woman be removed, right?

Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that this recommendation comes from the same union that complains about the workload of administrative duties relating to investigating children at risk and sex offenders in the community. 

Instead, let us focus on the impact of this decision for women within society within the framework of statistics.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in their Drugs in Australia 2010 report state that “Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use was significantly lower among pregnant women than women who were not pregnant. The proportion of pregnant women smoking has declined from 2001 to 2010.“

The report lists the findings of a National Drugs Strategy Household Survey which found that alcohol consumption amongst pregnant women dramatically drops, with 48.9 % abstaining completely, 48.7 reducing their alcohol intake and 2.0% maintaining their existing drinking (the level of which is not verified). Only 0.2% of respondents increased their intake of  

 When it comes to illicit drug use, 8.3% of women who were pregnant and/or breastfeeding in the past 12 months admit to the use of cannabis, pharmaceutical for non-medicinal purposes and other illicit drugs. Bear in mind that this figure includes women who had used drugs prior before they knew they were pregnant and, according to the report, “are significantly lower than for other women in the community”.

Bearing in mind the above statistics, if a system exists that penalises and curtails a pregnant woman for drug or alcohol issues, how likely would a woman be to actually seek assistance for the matter? The fear of being taken into ‘care’, restricted from seeing people she knows and other restrictions would prevent her from seeking the help she may need.

 Karen Healy, President of the Australian Association of Social Workers agrees. In an interview with the Australian, she branded the proposal "concerning" and that "It could lead to women not disclosing they are using drugs to medical practitioners…It may actually reduce the capacity of medical professionals to monitor these children."

So, not only would this recommendation actually not prevent the risky behavior, it could potentially not only drive it underground but also scare women away from support. 

So, who will think of the babies, you ask? Who will protect them from their mothers? There is no doubt there are at risk pregnancies – but they are not widespread  and policing and punishment won’t help. Only rational programs and support will. There is no doubt this is a complex area but if we don’t learn from the horrors of past generations, we will never solve problems for the future.

Consider also the implications of who would be under review should this recommendation become enacted. Will it be across all classes? Or will only women from lower-socio economic backgrounds be targeted?

As stereotypes and our national sport of bogan-bashing goes, poorer people are often depicted as drinking more than any other class in Australia. This is a particularly curious stereotype given statistical analysis shows that personal income rises, so too does alcohol consumption across both genders. (Drinking Patterns in Australia 2001-2007, Australian Institute Health and Welfare). One can’t shake the feeling these desired powers would be used almost exclusively against lower socio-economic brackets.

The more troubling aspect of this recommendation is disturbing matter of race that underpins it all. As part of the Inquiry’s aims, the Commissioner has called for recommendations to “reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system”.

So, is it a logical conclusion that the Queensland Police Union would apply these requested powers over the same over-represented community? That the focus of this would be of pregnant women of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage?

It is our indigenous communities who face the most intervention and there is no doubt there are challenges and problems for them, just as with many other Australians. But legislating against them (again) will not work, nor does the evidence show that it ever has worked.

The report from Queensland’s Child Protection Inquiry is due in April, a month before National Sorry Day. People around the country will gather to remember the apology from five years ago. It is a time when we recall the horrors suffered by Australia’s indigenous population. A population who still suffer from reduced education, health, social and economic opportunities than other Australians. A population whose children were stolen from them in an effort to make them assimilate and disappear into Australia’s population. A population targeted by the Queensland Police Union and other groups who still want to curtail their liberty and take their children.

What is the point of saying sorry if we keep trying to make the same mistake?