Abortion Decriminalised in New South Wales
In late September, the New South Wales government passed a bill to decriminalize abortion. These NSW laws come just months after Queensland and further regulated the conduct of registered health practitioners who administer abortions.
For people in NSW, this means:
- abortion has been removed from current legislation which previously made it a criminal offence to have or administer one;
- women are able to have an abortion up until 22 weeks gestation; and,
- after 22 weeks gestation, women are able to have an abortion if approved by two “specialist medical practitioners”, who include obstetricians or doctors experienced in obstetrics.
This is a bill that has caused huge outrage in NSW for both supporters and opponents of the changes to decriminalizing abortion. People who protested against the bill included anti-abortion activists, religious groups and a number of members of parliament whose main concerns were about sex-selective and late term abortions. Other opponents claimed that the new laws would enable women to have abortions “on demand” up until the birth date.
To combat this resistance, changes to the original bill have been made which impose strict rules regarding late-term abortions and which wholly ban sex-selective abortions.
Late Term Rules
These strict rules which apply to late-term abortions, meaning those performed after 22 weeks gestation, include that:
- late-term abortions must be performed at a hospital or an approved health facility;
- obstetricians and doctors may seek advice regarding the abortion from the hospital’s advisory committee or a multi-disciplinary team;
- obstetricians and doctors must provide appropriate care to babies born alive during an abortion (a rule which previously existed); and,
- when assessing whether a person is eligible for a late-term abortion, obstetricians and doctors must consider advice from the hospital’s advisory committee and/or multi-disciplinary team, the mother and baby’s medical circumstances, the mother’s current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances, and must also consult with another obstetrician or doctor who agrees that there are sufficient reasons to perform the abortion based on these considerations.
For obstetricians and doctors who are not comfortable administering either an early or late-term abortion, they are able to refer their patient to the NSW Health Hotline or website so that the patient can locate alternative obstetricians and doctors who are happy to provide care.
These new laws have also made it a criminal offence which carries up to two years imprisonment, for someone to pressure, force or prevent a woman from having an abortion.
The tension surrounding this bill involved weeks of protesting, two members of parliament threatening to leave the Liberal party if changes weren’t made to the bill which would restrict late-term abortions. This ultimately led to changes being made to the bill and after over 70 hours of debate within the lower and upper houses, the bill was passed.
In Queensland, similar laws were implemented last December which decriminalized abortion. These amendments involved changing lots of previous legislation which made having or administering an abortion illegal. New Queensland laws applied all the same changes listed above and additionally, created safe zones of 150 metres around clinics and hospitals who administer abortions. These safe zones make it a criminal offence to harass, deter from entering, or record either visually or audibly, patients and employees inside clinics, hospitals and within the safe zone.
Currently, abortion has been decriminalised for a number of medical purposes in South Australia and legalised in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory.
About the Author: Blair Carey
Blair Carey is a Criminal Law Clerk at Gatenby Criminal Lawyers. He regularly researches new laws and their potential impact for our clients. Blair assists Michael Gatenby and our expert solicitors with providing the best advice on all related matters.