Politics

Friendly Reminder: It’s 2018 And Abortion Is Still A Crime In NSW

And surprise: Most people don't realise.

Well, it turns out that more than three quarters of people in NSW aren’t aware that abortion is still a criminal offence Australia’s biggest state. Here’s your grim reminder that yep, NSW still hasn’t gotten around to legalising abortion. Actually, NSW Parliament voted to keep abortion in the Crimes Act just last year.

A new study by the University of Sydney and James Cook University, published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, surveyed NSW residents about their knowledge of abortion law. It turns out that popular understanding is wildly out of step with the actual law — the survey found that 76 percent of respondents had no idea that abortion is a criminal offence in NSW, and that 73 percent thought abortion should be decriminalised and regulated as a healthcare service.

That support for decriminalisation was consistent across genders, ages, education levels and rural/metropolitan divides. Basically, the vast majority of people in NSW reckon people should have access to abortion as a healthcare service, and didn’t know that wasn’t already the case. Eighty-one percent of respondents also supported exclusion zones banning protestors around abortion clinics, allowing people to use the clinics without fear of harassment.

Remind Me What The Legal Situation With Abortion In NSW Is Again?

We’ve written before about the barriers to accessing abortion services around Australia, but in light of the fact that most of NSW apparently has no idea what the law is here, here’s a reminder.

Currently, abortion remains listed in the NSW Crimes Act, making it a criminal offence punishable by up to ten years in jail. The only way you can access an abortion in NSW is with the approval of a doctor who believes the procedure is “necessary to preserve the woman involved from serious danger to her life or physical or mental health”. That’s a pretty big barrier to access to abortion — especially for women in rural and regional areas — and it means anyone seeking an abortion first needs to basically argue their case to a GP, who isn’t guaranteed to be supportive.

Back in May 2017, then-NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi introduced a bill to Parliament seeking to decriminalise abortion and set up safe zones around clinics, but it was voted down 25-14. Not a single member of the Liberal-National government voted to support the bill. Since then, Parliament has voted to establish safe access zones around clinics (a new bill introduced Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Nationals MLC Trevor Khan was successful in June this year), but abortion remains a criminal offence.

The study published today confirms that this legal position is way out of step with what people in NSW actually want. “There is a lack of knowledge in the community that abortion remains in the criminal code in NSW,” study author and gynaecologist Associate Professor Kirsten Black said. “When people are informed that is the situation, there is overwhelming community support for decriminalisation of abortion.”

Co-author Professor Alexandra Barratt agreed, adding that “community support for reform was strong in regional and rural areas, even more so than in metropolitan areas, perhaps a reflection that accessing abortion can be more difficult for women living in regional and rural regions.”

“Health services, including abortion, need to be accessible to all to reduce health inequalities. Abortion law reform would reduce current inequalities of access, be democratic and support women’s autonomy and reproductive rights.”

Meanwhile in Queensland, the Labor government has introduced a bill to remove abortion from the state’s criminal code. We guess the ball’s in your court, NSW Parliament. The people have spoken.