Alabama’s decision this week to outlaw abortion has raised questions over Australia’s complex abortion laws which see some women forced to travel interstate in order to terminate pregnancies.
The controversial state legislation was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday after 25 lawmakers, all of them men, passed the anti-abortion bill in the state senate.
The new law bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest, and criminalises the procedure for doctors, who could be charged with felonies and face up to 99 years in prison.
The decision sparked fierce backlash from women’s health advocates in the US and around the world, who argue that the state has no right to exert control over women’s reproductive freedom.
Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act. To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God. https://t.co/DwKJyAjSs8 pic.twitter.com/PIUQip6nmw
— Governor Kay Ivey (@GovernorKayIvey) May 15, 2019
The right to safely access abortion has been a contested subject in Australia in recent years, especially in Tasmania and New South Wales, where it is particularly difficult to get one.
So what are the abortion laws in Australia?
In Australia, a woman can get an abortion up until she is 14 weeks pregnant at available clinics nationwide.
But if she has been pregnant for any longer than that, her ability to get an abortion depends on which state or territory she lives in, as laws and required reasons for having an abortion vary. So, too, does the stage of pregnancy at which abortions can be performed.
There are two types of abortion available in Australia: medical and surgical.
A medical abortion is performed up to nine weeks from the first day of a woman’s last period, and a surgical abortion is usually performed as a day procedure using a light general anaesthetic.
In Victoria, women can choose to have an abortion up until they are 24 weeks pregnant.
If a woman has been pregnant for longer than 24 weeks, she can still terminate her pregnancy but only if two doctors agree that abortion is appropriate given the woman’s physical, psychological and social circumstances.
In 2015, the Victorian government passed laws to establish a 150-metre zone around clinics and hospitals that provide abortions, making it an offence to intimidate women seeking to access an abortion.
NEW SOUTH WALES
It is a lot harder for women to have an abortion in NSW than in Victoria.
The only way a woman can get an abortion in NSW is if a doctor honestly believes that the operation is required to save her life or preserve her mental health.
The NSW Crimes Act 1990 says that unlawfully giving a woman an abortion is an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
Last year, the NSW Parliament passed laws to impose 150-metre ‘safe access zones’ around clinics and hospitals that provide abortions.
Protestors who harass people outside abortion clinics can now face jail time.
There are no laws making specific reference to abortion within the ACT Crimes Act.
Abortion was decriminalised in Queensland in October last year, after the Termination of Pregnancy Bill was passed in parliament.
Before the law, women and doctors could be criminally prosecuted for unlawfully accessing or providing abortion.
Now women can request an abortion on demand up until they are 22 weeks pregnant.
After that, two doctors must decide whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.
Safe zones of 150 metres are enforced around abortion clinics.
A woman can get an abortion in the NT up until she is 23 weeks pregnant if a second doctor approves her decision.
Women can get an abortion in WA, but only if it is performed before she is 20 weeks pregnant.
From then on, two medical practitioners from a panel of six appointed by the Minister have to agree that the mother or unborn baby has a severe medical condition.
These abortions can only be performed at a facility approved by the Minister.
Women under 16 years of age need to have at least one parent informed.
South Australia was the first Australian state to make it easier for women to get abortions through legislation.
However, some restrictions remain and there are still criminal penalties for unlawful abortion.
A woman can get an abortion until she is 28 weeks pregnant with permission from a doctor, and she must have been a resident in South Australia for at least two months before getting an abortion.
Despite abortion being decriminalised in Tasmania in November 2013, it is still very difficult for women to get one.
That’s because elective surgical and medical abortions remain unavailable through the state’s public health system, and the state’s last dedicated surgical abortion clinic recently closed.
Abortions are only provided in the Tasmanian public health system in extraordinary circumstances, which typically include cases of foetal abnormality or to save the life of a pregnant woman or to prevent her from suffering serious physical injury.
Otherwise, women must access these services through the private sector, and there are very few health professionals providing these services in Tasmania.
Young or disadvantaged women may face challenges in finding, travelling to and paying for abortion services.
In Tasmania, surgical abortions can be provided up until the woman is 16 weeks pregnant.