NSW And Queensland Might Finally, Finally Be Getting Around To Decriminalising Abortion

Yes, abortion is still technically illegal. It doesn't have to be.


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It’s no secret that abortion laws in Australia are inconsistent and woefully outdated. While most states allow abortion in some form, albeit with different conditions and cutoff dates, NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory all have restrictive anti-abortion laws still on the books that date back to the late 19th Century. In NSW, permission for an abortion has to be obtained from a doctor upon proving that pregnancy would jeopardise the woman’s physical or mental health, or that there are significant socio-economic factors to consider. In Queensland and the NT, meanwhile, accessing an abortion is entirely dependent on the woman’s health, making the process even more restrictive.

Unsurprisingly, these barriers have driven many women to drastic measures. A private health organisation in Victoria has reported “scores” of women flying into the state from elsewhere to have late-term abortions they can’t access at home, while in Queensland a young couple was criminally charged in 2010 for ordering abortion pills from overseas. Women forced to run the gauntlet of pro-life activists at clinics in Sydney and Brisbane have been pushing for protest exclusion zones around abortion clinics, similar to those in place in Victoria.

But now, politicians in NSW and Queensland are teaming up to get their state’s archaic laws off the books once and for all. Independent Queensland MP Rob Pyne and NSW Greens pollie Mehreen Faruqi are simultaneously pushing to decriminalise abortion in their jurisdictions. Pyne has introduced the Abortion Law Reform (Woman’s Right to Choose) Amendment Bill 2016, which, in his own words, “simply moves terminations, a medical procedure, into the medical arena, and out of the courts”.

Pyne’s bill has already secured support from Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, who joined abortion rights protestors at a rally outside Queensland Parliament on Tuesday. Both Queensland Labor and the Liberal-National Party will allow their members a conscience vote on the bill, although it remains to be seen how many will actually support it when the bill comes to a vote.

Faruqi, meanwhile, has a bill of her own ready to present to NSW Parliament that would repeal all sections of the Crimes Act relating to abortion offences and establish a 150-metre safe zone banning protest around clinics. Experts in criminal law and women’s health have lauded Faruqi’s bill, saying that “decriminalisation of abortion law…is urgently required to bring the 19th-century laws into step with 21st-century medical practice and social attitudes”.

Now all that remains is to get it passed, which may prove surprisingly difficult. NSW Premier Mike Baird is personally anti-abortion, while Opposition Leader Luke Foley has expressed an unwillingness in the past to make abortion a political issue. But with a multi-state push on, and the contact details of Baird and Foley’s offices conveniently available online (hint, hint), there’s never been a better opportunity to change their minds.

Feature image via Rob Pyne/Facebook.