Abortion Is Legal In Australia, But The System Is Deeply Flawed
Roe v Wade being overturned doesn't threaten Australia's right to abortion, but our system has its own issues.
The US Supreme Court moved to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade case on Friday, reversing a ruling that has protected the right to terminate a pregnancy for the better part of half a century in the US.
But while the Roe v Wade ruling does not threaten Australians’ right to terminate a pregnancy, it has held up a mirror to our own abortion laws and systems, serving as a reminder that the situation here is far from perfect.
Abortion Is Legal Across Australia, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy To Actually Get One
It’s been sixteen months since South Australia became the final jurisdiction in Australia to make abortion legal, but this will only be removed from the state’s criminal code from next month.
Technically, abortion is legal in Western Australia but it is still included under the criminal code and has therefore not been fully decriminalised. But while you can legally access abortion in any state or territory in Australia, your ability to actually get one comes down to luck and privilege.
What Are The Actual Laws?
New South Wales
Abortion is accessible up to 22 weeks gestation, after which it must be approved by two separate medical specialists who agree there are “sufficient grounds” to terminate.
Abortion is accessible up to 24 weeks gestation, after which it requires two doctors’ approval.
Abortion is accessible up to 16 weeks gestation, after which it requires two doctors’ approval. Doctors can refuse on conscientious grounds, except in the case of medical emergency.
Abortion is accessible up to 22 weeks and six days gestation, after which it requires two doctors’ approval. Decriminalisation official from July 7.
Abortion is accessible up to 20 weeks gestation, but doctors must offer counselling. You also need parental consent if you’re under the age of 16.
After 20 weeks, abortions must be approved by two doctors who agree that the mother or foetus has a severe medical condition. Doctors and hospitals reserve the right to refuse to terminate a pregnancy.
There is no gestational limit, but abortion must be performed by a registered nurse or doctor.
Abortion is accessible up to 22 weeks gestation, after which it requires two doctors’ approval.
Abortion is accessible up to 22 weeks gestation, after which it requires two doctors’ approval and can only be done under certain medical grounds.
Getting An Abortion Is Significantly Harder If You Live In A Remote Or Regional Area
Your ability and ease in accessing abortion in Australia largely depends on where you live.
Head of Policy at MSI (formerly Marie Stopes Australia) told Junkee that your location can impact not only your access to abortion, but also the quality of care you receive.
“Some areas you can be totally lost and not have anywhere to go. And in other areas you might have one fantastic GP or one brilliant nurse in a local practice who will be by your side and advocating for your needs the whole way,” Corbin told Junkee. “So it’s a bit of a jackpot in Australia in terms of where you live, who you live close by.”
“There are still so many gaps, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ people and people living in regional and remote areas.”
Only approximately 10 percent of GPs in Australia are registered to prescribe mifepristone — the drug needed for medical abortion. But if you thought this figure was low, it drops down to less than one percent in certain regional, remote and rural areas across the country.
Abortion 'deserts' in Australia: areas in yellow have no GP and no pharmacist providing medical abortion services. Highlights clear disparities in access to essential #SRH services #SPHERE2021 pic.twitter.com/0KuXOngmrA
— SPHERE (@SPHERE_CRE) November 22, 2021
Not to mention, surgical abortions are mostly only available in urban areas, which means those living in regional, rural and remote areas need to travel to seek urgent medical treatment. In addition to the obvious cost of travel, this also makes it much harder to be discreet about the procedure, if you wish to do so.
According to Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperation chief executive Raylene Harradine, the problem is even worse for First Nations people who are seeking an abortion. “Some of our communities don’t have their own transport, so that can be really challenging. But also access to really good health services as well,” Harradine told the SMH.
The severe lack of abortion providers in Australia is at least partly because midwives and OBGYNs in Australia aren’t required to complete abortion training, as has been done in places like Sweden.
Even In Australia, Abortions Can Be Prohibitively Expensive
In Australia, we largely enjoy the benefits of universal healthcare, which means that it’s not all that common that you need to stress about seeing a doctor for urgent medical attention (thanks, Medicare). However, abortions are one of the few areas that can still be prohibitively expensive, even here in Australia.
Abortions can be accessed via the public healthcare system in South Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as in Victoria and Tasmania for vulnerable people. For pretty much everyone else, abortions are usually performed in private clinics, which means you’ll probably have to cough up some cash for it.
Specific costs depend on whether you need a medical or surgical abortion (the latter being more expensive, but sometimes the only option for people who don’t realise they’re pregnant), how far along you are, and whether you have a Medicare card, private health insurance or a health care card.
If you have a Medicare card, you’re looking at $100-500 for a medical abortion, or $400-600 for a surgical abortion, with additional costs like blood tests and ultrasounds often racking up their own costs. These costs are often higher in regional areas, with The Guardian reporting in 2017 that patients in Rockhampton were paying upwards of $750 for the procedure.
While there are options if you can’t afford these costs, it simply must be stressed that the idea of paying hundreds of dollars to seek a safe abortion is prohibitively expensive for many people.