It's 2018, And NSW Is The Only State Where Abortion Is Illegal
It's well past time Australia's most populous state comes into the modern century.
Annabelle* lives in NSW, and was on contraception when she fell pregnant.
She had a potentially life-threatening illness that meant carrying a pregnancy to full term was extremely risky. Her illness also meant that surgery of any kind was also exceptionally high risk. When Annabelle was pregnant with her daughter she had spent long stretches in the hospital. On the advice of her doctor and specialists, she was told that another pregnancy would also be high risk and potentially life threatening.
When Annabelle went to her specialist hospital, she was refused access to a surgical termination and told it was a crime. What’s worse is that according to Michelle Thompson, CEO of Marie Stopes Australia, Annabelle’s case is not an isolated incident.
Wednesday, a parliamentary vote in Queensland was in favour of removing abortion from the criminal code, with the vote sitting at 50-41 with one minister abstaining from the vote.
A couple of months ago, when Queensland announced that it would consider changing the laws to keep up with modern times, there was outcry from people all over the state who didn’t realise that abortion -- a safe, common medical procedure -- was in fact a criminal offence, unless performed under exceptional circumstances.
Abortion is a deeply personal decision, made for myriad individual, often complex reasons, and one that fundamentally should be made by no one but a woman with autonomy over her own body.
But even after Queensland lawmakers voted to overturn the state’s archaic law, what most people still don’t realise is that abortion remains in the criminal code in NSW -- the last state to catch up to the modern era.
NSW’ law was first drafted in the year 1900, and last updated in 1971 -- the same year our troops pulled out of Vietnam.
So what is the law in NSW?
In NSW, it is illegal for a woman to procure an abortion unless her doctor deems that continuing with the pregnancy may be life threatening, or that there is a significant risk to the woman’s mental health. The doctor must also be able to prove or justify the reasons behind their decision to a judge if asked.
Not only does this put unfair pressure on any doctor who chooses to allow their patient to access an abortion, but it puts the health and well-being of a woman in the hands of a doctor. That’s right -- a woman in NSW is entirely at the mercy of her doctor if she wants to access a common, safe medical procedure that is legal in every other state.
Michelle Thompson, CEO of Marie Stopes Australia said, “We know that doctors are uncertain about the legal status of abortions in NSW, and in 2018 this should not be happening.
“In our Sydney clinics, we have cared for women who have been turned away from public hospitals after doctors and nurses have refused to provide them with a termination. In most cases these women have told us that the doctors and nurses either conscientiously object or that they view terminations as illegal.”
Does anyone get prosecuted for procuring an abortion in NSW?
Yes. Women in NSW and their doctors have been prosecuted for procuring and providing abortions.
As recently as last year, a woman was convicted for self-administering abortion drugs that she ordered on the internet, after not being able to access an abortion through her doctor. While the maximum penalty she could have received would be ten years in jail, the judge handed her a three year good behavior bond.
This woman now has a criminal record because she was forced to go out of her way and break the law in order to have control of her bodily autonomy.
In 2006, a doctor was given a two-year good behavior bond after being convicted for giving a woman drugs to procure an abortion in 2002.
Let me make this clear: abortion is a common, necessary, safe medical procedure that should be available to any and all women worldwide who do not wish to continue with a pregnancy.
NSW, it’s not 1900, or even 1971. It’s way past time you catch up to the rest of the nation, and come into the modern century.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.