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The History of Abortion Laws in Australia

The history of abortion laws in Australia is complicated and, quite often, very confusing. The main cause for confusion is the fact that in each Australian state there is a different law for abortion.

Abortion laws in Australia were originally based on 19th century British criminal prohibitions. It was prohibited unless an abortion was performed to save a woman’s life. These laws broadly covered (and still quite broadly cover) a woman’s mental health as a factor in her life being at risk. Mental health’s own history is strewn with ambiguity, which also resulted in much confusion for abortion law.

If a woman was determined by a physician to be ‘unstable’ or ‘unfit to mother’, but a judge disagreed, the physician could then be at risk of persecution. Likewise, if a patient claimed to be feeling a certain way to obtain a diagnosis that would ‘approve’ abortion, the system was failing.

This ambiguity continued until 1969, when the United Kingdom’s own reform inspired the reform of South Australian law. The law in South Australia was revised to protect medical practitioners conducting abortions to preserve a woman’s physical or mental health or if a foetus was proven to be forming abnormally.

After South Australia’s reform, Victoria and New South Wales followed suit. It must be said though that at this point, in no state was abortion yet legal without restrictions.

Then, in 2008, Victorian parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act. This removed any ambiguity relating to a diagnosis, as the need for a medical or psychological assessment was no longer required for an abortion to legally take place.

For the rest of the country though, things unfortunately remain somewhat unclear. Queensland, South Australian and New South Wales Abortion Laws still require doctors’ assessments for abortions to be considered legal. Abortion is legal in the ACT when performed by a medical practitioner and in Tasmania, it is legal up to 16 weeks gestation.

In Western Australia, abortion is considered as legal up to 20 weeks’ gestation. Medical abortion (abortion pill RU486) is now legal in the Northern Territory and surgical abortion is legal to 14 weeks with one doctor’s approval.

So, while much reform has taken place over the years, it seems much uncertainty remains. Each state has restrictions to legalities, but arguably, Australia ‘as-a-whole’ has come a long way.

There is much reform left to come – and perhaps one day, an Australia wide ruling will be put in place to help remove all the confusion. Until that happens, if you require further clarity and more detailed information on each state’s laws and restrictions, you can find it here.

To confidentially discuss your own circumstances and the possibility of abortion,
contact Gynaecology Centres Australia, today.

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