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Is abortion legal in Australia?

The answer is more complicated than you might think

Abortion is often thought of as a rather taboo subject. But with countless debates across the country regarding NSW abortion laws recently making headlines, it’s left many Aussie’s asking the question: Is abortion legal in Australia?

The answer is not as black and white as you may think. While abortion is considered legal in Australia under certain circumstances and when performed by a registered doctor, the Australian states and territories have their own criminal codes surrounding this often controversial topic. Some factors that must be assessed include the recipients age, mental and physical health and how far along the woman is in her pregnancy to avoid a criminal offence.

So what is an abortion?

Put simply, abortion is a procedure performed by a medical practitioner to terminate a pregnancy and can be done through several types of abortion services including surgery or medication depending on the term of the pregnancy.

The surgical procedure is used to empty the contents of the pregnant woman’s uterus and is carried out at abortion clinics or hospitals across the country. The procedure generally takes around 15 minutes, however, the patient will be required to stay for around four hours.

Medical terminations can be performed when the patient is less than nine weeks pregnant. Patients are required to take two different medications including an oral medication (Mifepristone) and a second medication (Misoprostol) which is inserted vaginally by the patient at their home.

In addition to surgical and medical abortions, Telehealth services are also available to women who are nine weeks pregnant or under provided they are not living in South Australia or the ACT. Following an initial telephone conversation, a patient is then sent materials to do a blood test and ultrasound. They are then sent the medications by post to undergo the procedure in the privacy of their own home.

The cost of abortion varies across Australia. Medication abortion through a GP has an approximate cost of $350- $580 upfront while surgical abortion can range from around $400-$3100 depending on the term of pregnancy and the clinic or hospital at which the procedure takes place. Medicare will cover some or all of the cost if the patient is covered by Medicare.

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(Credit: Getty Images)

According to a report published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, it’s estimated that half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned and that half of those are terminated. 

It is also estimated that around one in three Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime as reported by Family Planning Victoria.

In Queensland, where abortion was decriminalised in 2018, it’s reported that between 10,000 and 14,000 abortions take place each year.

So what are the rules for each state and territory? We’ve listed the criteria below.

Queensland

Queensland was the first state where abortion was decriminalised. Abortion in QLD is legal up to 22 weeks of pregnancy and post 22 weeks with the approval of two doctors. Prior to the Termination of Pregnancy Bill being passed in parliament in October, 2018, it was generally accepted that abortion could be lawfully be carried out in Qld in order to protect a woman’s life or her physical or mental health.

New South Wales

Abortion is now considered legal in NSW after the Abortion Law Reform Bill was passed in the NSW parliament on September 26, 2019. The procedure has also been removed from the crimes act. Before this bill was passed, abortion was still considered a crime in NSW unless a doctor believed a woman’s physical and or/mental health was in serious danger. Under the new law, women are entitled to seek an abortion up to 22 weeks gestation or after this time as long as they have been assessed by two specialist medical practitioners. In addition, it is now considered a crime to coerce a person to prevent or force them to have an abortion and is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Victoria

Abortion is legal in Victoria up to 24 weeks gestation. A Victorian woman may proceed with an abortion after this timeframe if she has received approval from two doctors. The doctors must agree the termination is appropriate, considering the woman’s relevant medical circumstances and her current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances. The procedure was decriminalised in 2008.

Australian Capital Territory

Abortion in the nation’s capital is considered legal but must be provided by a medical professional which includes a nurse practitioner. It has been regarded as a legal and regulated health service in the ACT since 2002.

South Australia

Patients seeking an abortion in South Australia can do so only when two doctors agree that their physical and/ or mental health is endangered by the pregnancy or when serious foetal abnormality is at risk. 

Tasmania

In 2013 Tasmania saw a decriminalisation bill was passed meaning that it is now legal to have an abortion up to 16 weeks. Patients may continue after 16 weeks with the approval of two doctors. 

Western Australia

Abortion are considered legal for Western Australians up to 20 weeks, however, restrictions may apply for those under 16 years of age. 

Northern Territory

With the approval of a doctor, abortion in legal in the Northern Territory up to 14 weeks. An additional doctor would need to approve the procedure up to 23 weeks. Following this time, abortion is considered illegal unless it is carried out to save a pregnant person’s life.

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(Credit: Getty Images)

For women under 16 years of age who wish to have an abortion, they are required to answer a series of questions from their doctor to determine whether they understand the procedure. Provided they are deemed mature enough, the patient can get consent from the doctor to proceed. Women with intellectual disabilities have the same rights as long as they are able to give informed consent.

Despite the scare tactics used by anti-choice groups and lobby groups, abortions are one of the safest medical procedures due to the high standards that clinics and hospitals must abide by. In addition, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have stated that serious implications after abortions are rare and there is no proven link to infertility for people who have terminated a pregnancy.

Unplanned pregnancies happen to women of all ages in many different circumstances. There are a wide range of support networks available to women who may be considering terminating their pregnancy in each state and territory across Australia.

For further information, contact:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Help Line on 1800 55 18 00
  • Family Planning NSW Talkline on 1300 658 886

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