Greenslopes Revisits 1985: A Throwback to Abortion Debates

Greenslopes abortion clinic raid
Greenslopes abortion clinic raid

Did you know that Greenslopes was at the heart of the state’s fierce abortion debate in 1985 and the events of that year shaped the Termination of Pregnancy Bill?

A Step Back in Time

The political landscape in Queensland was vastly different in the 1980s. Then Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had ordered police raids on abortion clinics throughout the state, as the termination of pregnancy was illegal under Queensland law. Those laws remained unchanged for over a century.

The Women’s Centre at Red Hill in Brisbane was offering all-options counselling and referring women to abortion clinics in Sydney when the abortion debate first gained prominence. The violent attacks that followed – bricks thrown through windows – brought significant attention to their work and gave Queensland women a sense of choice.

During this time, Greenslopes was home to one of Queensland’s abortion facilities, the Greenslopes Fertility Control Clinic, which began providing services in the late 1970s. However, under Mr Bjelke-Petersen’s leadership, the government was determined to put an end to what they saw as “abortion on demand.”

In 1980, former Liberal MP Rosemary Kyburz played a pivotal role by leaking details of proposed laws that aimed to ban abortion in all circumstances except when a woman’s life was at imminent risk. She vehemently opposed these laws, describing them as “the most frightening piece of fascist legislation I have ever seen in my life.” Despite personal attacks and threats, including the shooting of her dog, Ms Kyburz stood her ground.

Clinics Raided

In the midst of this heated debate, Queensland police launched Operation Lost Cause in May 1985. More than 50 officers conducted simultaneous raids on known abortion clinics in Brisbane, Townsville, and the Greenslopes Fertility Control Clinic. A total of 47,000 patient files were seized during these raids.

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Dr. Peter Bayliss, who operated the Greenslopes facility, faced arrest and charges under the criminal code. Eventually, he was found not guilty, and the judge, Fred Maguire, ruled that abortion was effectively legal if performed to prevent a serious threat to a woman’s health.

The fallout from these events resulted in a highly divisive public debate, leaving Queenslanders divided on the issue of abortion.

A New Future

In 2018, Greenslopes and all of Queensland revisited their history as the state’s Parliament debated the decriminalization of abortion and its removal from the criminal code. The long-standing debate has polarized opinions and ignited passionate arguments on both sides.

In a significant victory for women’s rights, Queensland’s Parliament voted to legalise abortion and remove a 119-year-old “morality” section from the state’s criminal code. After decades of passionate debate, the historic moment was marked by cheers in the legislative assembly chamber, ending a 50-year struggle by women’s groups in a state historically known for its conservatism. 

Abortion had been classed as an “offence against morality” under the outdated criminal code, a law written before women had gained the right to vote. Both major political parties, Labor and the Liberal National party, allowed their members a conscience vote, and ultimately, the laws passed with a 50-41 vote.

The legislation legalised abortion up to 22 weeks gestation and beyond with the approval of two doctors, while also establishing safe access zones around clinics to protect women from harassment.

Published 14-Oct-2023