Is Abortion Legal In Australia? It Depends On State

Every single state has a different law around abortion, except for one.

With the news that Queensland is set to (finally) decriminalise abortion under new laws, it's worth looking at how available abortion is on a state-by-state basis.

Abortion in Australia is covered by a "patchwork" of laws that create uncertainty, uneven access, and confusion for both women and medical practitioners, according to abortion provider Marie Stopes.

There is no national sexual and reproductive health plan and very little appetite for one.

Supporters of  safe access zone around abortion clinics in NSW gather outside NSW Parliament House in Sydney. Photo: AAP

Safe access to abortion is one of several health care services a joint report - recommended all governments provide. A report by the US-based research and policy body The Guttmacher Institute and leading medical journal The Lancet.

Australia has not accomplished that -- although, thankfully, we don't come close to these countries' draconian laws.

"We are failing on an international level to provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health services," said Marie Stopes CEO Michelle Thompson.

Here's what abortion laws look like in each state across Australia.

Queensland

Soon: up to 22 weeks

Queensland has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The laws, which date from 1899, mean doctors can only administer abortions if a continued pregnancy was a risk to a woman's physical or mental health, and would face up to 14 years imprisonment.

However, the Palaszczuk Labor government announced on Monday that the cabinet has accepted all recommendations from the review into the state's abortion laws, and the Government intends to introduce draft laws to decriminalise abortion.

Safe access zones of 150-metres -- like those recently legislated in NSW -- will also be part of the draft legislation.

New South Wales

Up to 20 weeks

Surprisingly, abortion is also criminalised in NSW, based on laws that were passed in 1900. An unlawful abortion is punishable by 10 years imprisonment.

However, a loophole from a 1971 common law precedent allows doctors to take into account a person's social and economic status when considering if an abortion is legal.

Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi introduced a bill to decriminalise abortion in 2016, but it was defeated at the legislative council.

The good news? NSW Parliament voted earlier this year to establish safe access zones around abortion clinics.

Tasmania

Up to 16 weeks

Abortion has been decriminalised in Tasmania since 2013, but that's not the issue facing people in the state. Since the last dedicated surgical abortion centre at the very end of 2017, people seeking the procedure must travel interstate, putting additional financial pressures on people in an already vulnerable situation.

The Tasmanian Liberal government is offering financial assistance to women travelling for the procedure, but has ruled out funding elective abortions through the public system -- something the Labor government has promised.

South Australia

Up to 22 weeks

Abortion is still covered in the criminal code in SA, and while it is available for up to 22 weeks, it's only available if two doctors agree that a person's physical / mental health is in serious danger, and even then it must only be performed in a hospital.

Thompson told ten daily that due to these restrictions, there have been instances of women in SA travelling to Victoria for the procedure.

Western Australia

Up to 20 weeks

Abortion is legal in WA for up to 20 weeks, but after 20 weeks, it becomes very restrictive. A panel of six doctors who are hand-selected by the current Health Minister must approve a request beyond 20 weeks gestation. The abortion can then only be performed at a facility approved by the Health Minister.

There are very limited available services for rural communities.

Northern Territory

Up to 14 weeks

Abortion is available in the NT for up to 14 weeks, or up to 23 weeks if approved by two medical practitioners.

Safe access zones are in place within 150-metres of abortion facilities.

ACT

There are no gestation limits in the ACT.

Only a registered medical practitioner may carry out an abortion and it must be one within a medical facility. Safe access zones are in place around these facilities for 50-metres.

Medical abortion is not carried out in a GP setting in the ACT, however, new laws proposed by the Greens will help increase the provision of medical termination in Canberra.

What happens next?

The inconsistency of laws around abortion across Australia means it can only really fixed by one thing: making it a federal issue.

"What has happened in Tasmania is a symptom of our lack of national approach to sexual and reproductive health, and particularly abortion care," said Thompson.

"The very same situation is taking place in Northern and Western Queensland; there are no suitable healthcare providers and no public health funding to ensure women can access abortion care.

"This will keep happening in various parts of the country until we take a national approach."

She wants to see sexual and reproductive health funding moved from a state level to a federal level, and then properly funded, which will drive legislative, policy and regulatory reform.

"The result is that you will have uniform funding and laws for abortion care."