ABORTION laws in NSW need to be brought into the 21st century, a Newcastle health lawyer says.
Catherine Henry hopes Queensland’s decision to legalise abortion this week will put pressure back on NSW MPs to remove abortion from the criminal code.
“We need to get abortion out of the criminal codes and have it regulated like any other medical procedure,” Ms Henry said. “There are a whole raft of situations that can work against women while abortion remains in the crimes act. Criminal charges can be laid against a woman, or a doctor performing the abortions, and we have seen that happen. “Now in Queensland, that possibility has been removed by virtue of the law changing.”
Ms Henry said the NSW Parliament passed the Access to Reproductive Health Clinics Bill into law in August, which focused on safe access, but did not address decriminalisation.
“NSW is now the only Australian state, and one of only a few places in the Western world, where abortion comes under criminal codes,” she said.
Ms Henry said abortions were the most commonly performed therapeutic procedure in NSW, yet it was the only procedure that was the subject of criminal sanctions.
About 80,000 abortions take place in Australia every year, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Between a quarter to a third of Australian women will choose to terminate a pregnancy at some point in their lives, with half of all pregnancies unplanned.
“I think it’s a shame we don’t have a champion in NSW like they had in Queensland. “Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk really drove it. She had some people in her party who were social conservatives, but she drove it home.
“This issue should cross partisan lines. It should rise above party politics.”
Contrary to popular opinion, abortion was not available to women in NSW “on demand”.
Women in NSW seeking an abortion must satisfy legislative criteria – a doctor must be satisfied that to proceed with the pregnancy would be a danger to the women’s physical or mental health.
“Surveys show time and time again that an overwhelming majority of Australians support liberal access to abortion and a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “The abortion offences in NSW are based on very old fashioned concepts that were lifted from UK legislation passed in 1867 and they require updating.”