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Abortion law in Australia: it’s time for national consistency and decriminalisation

Abortion law in Australia: it’s time for national consistency and decriminalisation - Featured Image

Current Australian abortion laws continue to disadvantage many women

It is almost 7 years since abortion was decriminalised in Victoria, where a doctor can now terminate a pregnancy at up to 24 weeks with the woman’s consent, and after 24 weeks with the agreement of a second doctor. This change has not resulted in increased numbers of abortions, which have remained stable over many years.1 Earlier, in 2002, the Australian Capital Territory had removed all criminal sanctions for abortion. Abortion was decriminalised in Tasmania in 2013; here a doctor may perform an abortion at up to 16 weeks with the woman’s consent, and after 16 weeks with the additional agreement of a second doctor. In all remaining Australian jurisdictions, a patchwork of differing abortion laws operate. Only in the ACT has regulation of abortion been removed completely from criminal law.2 These legal inconsistencies have significant ramifications for the access of Australian women to abortion.

Meanwhile, developments move apace in our understanding of fetal health, and in the diagnosis of fetal abnormality. Medicare-funded diagnosis of fetal abnormality is now routinely offered to all pregnant Australian women — with the implication that a woman may choose to terminate the pregnancy if a serious abnormality is detected. The rapid development of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) —…

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