Ladies, it’s time we talked about abortion laws in Australia. Not the easiest topic of conversation, we’ll admit. However, when you consider that between one quarter to one third of Australian women will experience an abortion in their lifetime, we think you’ll agree it’s time to break the stigma surrounding abortion in Australia.
Nationally, access to abortion has been a topical debate for as long as we can remember. Whilst most Australians are in support of legal access to abortion based upon a decision made by a pregnant woman in consultation with their doctor, there is a segment of the population who believe abortion to be a lethal act to a life that commenced at conception and thus has human rights.
The good news is that on Thursday, 26th September 2019, New South Wales became the final Australian state to officially decriminalise abortion, making lawful abortion a national step in the right direction. One small step for Australia. One giant leap for womankind.
Navigating Australia’s abortion laws still isn’t as simple as you’d expect. With six states and two territories, each acting on independent governance, abortion regulations differ based on where a woman lives and the duration of pregnancy. So, let’s take a closer look at the laws of abortion in each state.
In 2018, abortion was decriminalised in Queensland when state parliament passed the Termination of Pregnancy Bill. The new legislation provides women with the right to legally terminate their pregnancy without any reason for up to 22-weeks. Beyond 22-weeks, approval must be sought from two doctors who agree that the termination should be performed. Safe access zones of 150-metres are set around termination clinics.
New South Wales
Commencing on 2nd October 2019, the Abortion Law Reform Act enables women of New South Wales to safely and legally terminate a pregnancy of up to 22-weeks’ gestation. Just like their northern Queensland neighbours, two doctors’ approvals are required for abortions beyond 22-weeks, and safe access zones are set at a 150-metre radius of termination clinics.
In South Australia, abortion is still governed by criminal law. The procedure is legally accessible up to 28-weeks when two doctors believe a woman’s mental or physical health to be at risk during pregnancy, or serious foetal abnormality. However, unlawful termination of pregnancy is a criminal offence.
The bright side: an abortion decriminalisation bill passed the Lower House of South Australia parliament on 19th February 2021. Provided the bill passes the Upper House, abortion will transfer from state criminal law into health legislation – a big yay for S-A!
The most progressive state for abortions in Australia. For women in Victoria, access to an abortion is available up to 24-weeks of pregnancy, with two doctors’ approvals beyond this point. It is illegal to protest within 150-metres of an abortion clinic.
Australian Capital Territory
Surgical abortions are accessible in the Australian Capital Territory up to 16-weeks’ gestation, whereas medical terminations can only occur for up to 8-weeks. The ACT Health Minister has the power to declare exclusion zones around approved abortion facilities to prevent protesting, harassment and intimidating behaviour towards patients.
In Western Australia, abortion is legal when performed within 20-weeks of pregnancy. After 20-weeks, two of six doctors appointed by the Minister must agree that the mother or unborn baby has a severe medical condition and abortion is in their best interest. Western Australia’s Criminal Code states that any medical practitioner who performs an ‘unlawful’ abortion may face a $50,000 fine or 5 years imprisonment, however the patient is not criminally responsible. Pregnant women under 16-years in Western Australia must have parental consent unless contested in court.
Women in the Northern Territory can receive an abortion up to 14-days gestation with the approval of their doctor. Between 14-23 weeks, a second doctor’s approval is required. Beyond 23-weeks, an abortion may only lawfully be performed if the pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Safe access zones of 150-metres are enforced around abortion clinics where acts of harassment, intimidation and recording are prohibited.
Abortion was decriminalised in Tasmania in 2013, making the procedure legal for pregnancies up to 16-weeks and with two doctors’ approvals from thereafter. It’s illegal to protest within 150-metres of an abortion facility and doctors are liable to be fined should they conscientiously object or avoid referral of a pregnant woman to another doctor.