19 September 2018

Abortion laws out of touch with community sentiment

Medicolegal Women

Three-quarters of people are not aware that abortion can be a criminal offence in NSW and the majority support a decriminalisation of the procedure, a recent survey has shown.

While most states in Australia have clarified the criminal laws around abortion, NSW and Queensland laws remain ambiguous. Only the ACT has completely removed abortion from criminal law.

Around 76% of people are unaware that abortion is illegal under some circumstances in NSW, according to a survey of around 1,000 people conducted by the University of Sydney.

Once informed about the 118-year old law that governs abortions in the state, around 73% of people expressed the view that abortion should be decriminalised.

These views were consistent across genders, age groups, levels of education and rural or city residency. Women and doctors can face up to 10 years in jail for undertaking or administering an abortion in NSW under the Crimes Act 1900 [NSW] Part 3 Division 12.

“Unlike other women in Australia, NSW women remain unable to make their own decisions about whether or not to have an abortion and remain reliant on doctors to make this judgment for them, raising questions about the adequacy of women’s autonomy and reproductive rights,” the authors said.

NSW parliament passed a Bill in June this year to protect women who are entering abortion clinics from harassment by protesters outside the premises.

But while Queensland is currently considering reforming its abortion laws, there are no plans in NSW to follow suit.

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, online 10 September