What Rights Do You Have in Australia When It Comes to Abortion?

What Rights Do You Have in Australia When It Comes to Abortion?
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The announcement of the end of Roe v Wade in the United States has sparked outrage and heartbreak across the globe, with folks all over speaking out against the overturning of abortion rights in the country. While the legal situation in Australia is quite different to that of the United States, the news has still driven many here to take a closer look at abortion our own rights.

If you’re wondering what Australia’s approach to abortion looks like at present, here is a breakdown of everything we currently know.

What rights do we have in Australia regarding abortion?

Laws surrounding abortion in Australia are managed at a state and territory level, Human Rights Law Centre associate legal director Adrianne Walter recently explained to the ABC.

“We don’t have a constitutional right to abortion. In fact, we don’t have national comprehensive human rights protections in Australia, which is something a lot of people don’t realise,” she explained.

As of 2022, all states and territories except for Western Australia have decriminalised abortion. South Australia was the last of this group to remove abortion from the Criminal Law Consolidation Act — a change that only occurred in the last year.

Here’s a look at the way each state and territory’s laws approach abortion

New South Wales

Per Family Planning NSW, in this state, “abortion was removed from the Crimes Act of 1900 in October 2019 with the passage of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 In NSW.”

  • You are legally able to access an abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy and doctors are able to perform these as long as they have informed consent.
  • After the 22-week point, the procedure must be completed in a hospital or approved facility by a specialist who must consult with a second medical practitioner.

Victoria

Abortion in Victoria is legal up until 24 weeks. Beyond this point, some abortions will be considered legal but Victoria Legal Aid states this is rare.

Sexual Health Victoria states that “in Victoria surgical abortion beyond 16 weeks is costly and service providers are limited. Speak to your doctor or nurse for more information.”

Note that if your doctor does not provide abortion services they are required to refer you to a doctor that will.

Tasmania

Women’s Health Tasmania shares that medication terminations are available up to nine weeks of pregnancy in Tasmania and surgical terminations, with a doctor’s referral, are available up until 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT government states on its website that:

Abortion can be accessed in the ACT up to 16 weeks gestation. Medical abortions up to nine weeks gestation can be available through a trained GP, telehealth services or with MSA (Marie Stopes Australia). MSA or Gynaecology Centres Australia offer surgical abortions up to 14-16 weeks gestation (depending on surgical risks). In specific cases, the Canberra Hospital can provide abortions, including at later gestations.

It also highlights that in the case of abortions beyond 14-16 weeks that cannot be fulfilled in Canberra, it is recommended that you visit an MSI Australia clinic (Marie Stopes Australia is now called MSI Australia) in Sydney.

Queensland

Per the Queensland Health website, abortion was decriminalised in the state in 2018.

In this state, abortion may be performed legally up until 22 weeks of pregnancy. After 22 weeks, abortion may be performed if two medical practitioners agree it is necessary.

Northern Territory

Medical abortion in the NT was decriminalised in 2017. Presently, abortion is legal in the territory up until 24 weeks. Beyond this point, termination may be possible “under certain medical grounds following consultation with and approval from two independent doctors”.

South Australia

Since decriminalising abortion in 2021, procedures are legal and available up until 23 weeks of pregnancy in South Australia.

Western Australia

Western Australia is the only state that still is yet to decriminalise abortion in Australia.

Per Sexual Health Quarters, abortion is legal up until 20 weeks gestation in the state when performed by a doctor and when informed consent has been given. At 20 weeks and beyond two medical practitioners must agree the procedure is justified.

Section 334 of the Health Act states that abortion in WA is justified if:

(a) the woman concerned has given informed consent; or (b) the woman concerned will suffer serious personal, family or social consequences if the abortion is not performed; or (c) serious danger to the physical or mental health of the woman concerned will result if the abortion is not performed; or (d) the pregnancy of the woman concerned is causing serious danger to her physical or mental health.

Unlawfully performing an abortion in WA is considered an offence.

So, yes, your access really comes down to where you happen to live.

“We’ve got some really great national principles in place, but at the state and territory level, it’s a bit of a postcode lottery,” Bonney Corbin, head of policy at Marie Stopes told the ABC.

“Women and pregnant people across Australia… have to navigate a patchwork of regulations in order to access care.”

What about costs?

Similarly, this varies hugely depending on circumstances. Health Direct states that some procedures may be covered by Medicare.

However, at private clinics, “the consultation can cost several hundred dollars. The medication costs around $50, less if you have a healthcare card.”

Then, of course, there are the added costs of travel for those in areas of Australia without much access to abortion care.

Postcode lottery, indeed.

While there are certainly confusing barriers in parts of Australia when it comes to accessing abortion, there are loads of resources you can turn to to find support. Whether that’s a trusted medical provider or a service like MSI Australia, it’s always worth seeking out advice from experts in this space who can guide you.

Where are the abortion rights protests happening in Australia?

You may have heard at this point that there are abortion rights protests being organised across Australia in solidarity with the United States and in recognition of the inconsistencies of our own healthcare offerings. The first kicked off in Perth on June 27.

Here’s where you can find the remaining upcoming protests:

Perth Saturday, July 2 at 1:00 pm at Murray St Mall Details here.

Brisbane Friday, July 1 at 5:30 pm at King George Square Details here.

Melbourne Friday, July 1 at 6:00 pm at the Corner of Bourke and Swanston Street Details here.

Saturday, July 2 at 12:00 pm at the State Library Details here.

Sydney Saturday, July 2 at 1:00 pm at Sydney Town Hall Details here.

Newcastle Thursday, June 30 at 5:30 pm at Newcastle Museum Details here.

Wollongong Saturday, July 2 at 12:00 pm at Crown Street Mall Ampitheatre Details here.

Adelaide Friday, July 1 at 5:30 pm at Beehive Corner, Rundle Mall. Details here.

Canberra Saturday, July 2 at 12:00 pm at Garema Place. Details here.

This article has been updated since its original publish date.