Abortion- The Push for Legalisation in NSW

Women are still undergoing painful, humiliating and dangerous experiences to end unwanted pregnancies. According to the World Health Organization 47,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions each year.

Nearly one in three women in Australia will have an abortion over her lifetime according to the Southern Australian Department of Health. As Larissa Waters, Queensland Senator and Australian Greens Deputy Leader says in the Guardian, women “must not be made to feel like criminals for making their own decisions about their own bodies.”

The push to legalise Abortion has been widespread in Australia in recent times. In May Independent MP, Rob Pyne introduced a Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise abortion in Queensland. NSW Greens MP, Mehreen Faruqi, has introduced the Abortion Law Reform 2015 in NSW to change abortion laws similar to Victoria’s Abortion Law Reform ACT 2008, saying that illegal abortion is an “archaic state of affairs” and women should have the right to exercise control over their own bodies.

Most on either side of the abortion debate agree that abortion is a bad thing. However, women’s safety and their right to their own bodies should be respected. The argument that to have abortions regulated and safe is far more preferable than to having it driven underground. As Children by Choice state “abortion is an issue concerning women’s health and women’s rights, and any legislation covering the procedure should not be contained within a Criminal Code or Crimes Act.”

How did abortion become illegal?
Australian’s current abortion laws originated from English common law over a hundred years ago when abortion was criminalised in England in 1861 through the “Offences Against the Persons Act.” Most of the laws enacted from that time were “amended or repealed,” wrote Maddison Connaughton in Vice except for Section 82-84 of the NSW Crimes Act 1900, which makes it illegal for a woman to get an abortion.

According to Section 82-84 – “Attempts to Procure Abortion,” if a woman is found guilty of trying to terminate her pregnancy by way of either drugs or other noxious substance or via instrument or other physical means, she can face up to 10 years in jail whether she actually goes through the abortion or not. Also any person including a doctor who supplies a drug or noxious substance for the intent to procure a miscarriage could face up to five years imprisonment.

Abortion was initially made illegal in order to protect women from serious health complications including death. At that time this type of surgical procedure was in its infancy with unskilled healthcare providers and no antibiotics or aseptic techniques. However, today abortions are safe. As Children by Choice highlight, pregnancy terminations are performed by highly qualified health care professionals in hygienic conditions, which makes it one of the safest medical procedures and complications are very rare.

Barriers to Access
Women’s access to abortion is not fair or accessible across Australia because abortion is still illegal in many states. Even in states where the procedure is legal, whether a woman can readily access the service is another story. Women in rural areas often are unable to get an abortion unless she has the means to travel to an urban centre. There are certain private clinics that offer the procedure, but at a cost of between $500 to $1,000, many women cannot afford it.

There are also strict guidelines that must be adhered to in order to obtain an abortion in states where abortions are illegal. For example in Northern Territory, South Australia and NSW abortion is only legal if two doctors agree that a woman’s physical and/or mental health will be endangered by the pregnancy or if there is a serious foetal abnormality.

With this limited access to legal abortions, women are often forced to feed the abortion ‘tourism’ industry and go on abortion holidays either to another state or overseas making access to an abortion only for the privileged few.

Critics argue that abortions are only technically illegal because often the law is not enforced. However, as Associate Professor Leslie Cannold, an abortion reform activist says: it does not matter whether the law is enforced or not because abortion remaining a criminal offence stigmatises women and reinforces the idea that abortion is wrong or shameful. It also makes it much harder to find a medical professional willing to perform the procedure due to fear of legal repercussions.

As long as we continue to criminalise abortion we are subjecting women to unequal treatment based on gender. Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said it best when she said “what a woman decides to do with her body, in consultation with her doctor, does not belong in the criminal code.”

No one would ever dare tell a man whether or not he could get a vasectomy.

To call your state Member of Parliament and voice your support for the decriminalisation of abortion go to: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/members/current/list