Many Australians are unaware of the restrictive nature of abortion laws in most states and territories. Abortion must be made legal, safe and accessible to protect the health of Australian women. Doctors must not be criminalised for providing a health service.
Examples from Queensland
Queensland's abortion laws have recently come under scrutiny with the recent case of a 12-year-old girl forced to seek court approval for a termination of pregnancy, even though the girl’s parents agreed to the procedure and attending medical professionals believed it would be safe. This is an undue burden to place on a young patient seeking medical care.
In 2009, a woman who took the "abortion pills" misoprostol and mifepristone, and her partner who helped procure the drugs, were respectively charged with procuring a miscarriage, and assisting the procurement of a miscarriage, both punishable by prison time. The jury quickly acquitted the pair. This case demonstrates both the harsh nature of the law and the sympathetic public sentiment regarding abortion.
A bill currently before the Queensland parliament seeks to decriminalise abortion in the state.
Inconsistent laws around the country
The laws in Queensland and NSW are similar in that procuring or performing abortion is technically illegal unless a doctor believes continuing the pregnancy would be dangerous. A survey of NSW residents found that support for legalising abortion in at least some circumstances was high, with over half of respondents answering that abortion should be legal whenever sought.
In South Australia, abortion is lawful up to 28 weeks' pregnancy with the agreement of two doctors, and unlawful thereafter. Victoria and Tasmania allow abortion on request up to 24 and 16 weeks, respectively, and with the approval of two doctors after that.
Western Australia allows abortions up to 20 weeks, although girls under the age of 16 require either parental consent or court approval to end their unwanted pregnancy.
The Northern Territory is the strictest jurisdiction in Australia, with abortion legal only on "maternal health" or "fetal disability" grounds to 14 weeks, or in an "emergency" thereafter.
The ACT is the only state or territory to fully decriminalise abortion carried out by a trained practitioner.
Harms of these laws
The restrictive nature of abortion laws in some parts of Australia pose difficulty for women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Forcing children to seek court approval to avoid giving birth is simply cruel.
Even where abortion is legal, the stigma enforces secrecy on women who have had or are considering the procedure. Abortion should be discussed openly as a medical procedure available as needed.
The state-to-state inconsistency of abortion law itself is a source of danger. It is naive to think that women with unwanted pregnancies do not make interstate trips — perhaps without telling friends or family where they’re going or for how long — to procure an abortion in a more permissible neighbouring state.
The Science Party supports abortion legislation similar to the Victorian model, i.e. decriminalisation of abortion whenever requested by the pregnant woman, when the following conditions are met:
- The procedure is carried out by an appropriately trained practitioner; and
- A second doctor must agree to the safety of the procedure after 24 weeks’ pregnancy. By this stage, abortion is a substantial surgical procedure (although still likely to be safer than bringing the pregnancy to term).
Further, the Science Party believes all medical practitioners should be required to perform an abortion in an emergency where the pregnant woman’s health is at risk. In a non-emergency situation, a practitioner should be able to refuse to perform the abortion but must provide the pregnant woman with the details of another provider who can perform the procedure.
Permissive abortion laws with basic checks and balances, and ensuring the accessibility of the procedure, will protect the physical and mental health of women who are seeking to end a pregnancy.