There are renewed calls for major changes to the abortion laws in Queensland and New South Wales.
An article published by the Medical Journal of Australia today said the laws are outdated and should be reformed.
The authors of the article argue the laws are ambiguous, outdated and leave both patients and doctors in a potential legal bind.
“It is one of the most commonly performed operations in Australia and yet it’s very much ignored by the medical profession and its important they realise we need to talk about it and we need to make it part of mainstream medical practice,” said co-author Caroline de Costa, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at James Cook University.
“Doctors have to be more involved in this.”
Professor de Costa said the question of when an abortion is lawful in Queensland and New South Wales is unclear.
“Doctors are still very cautious about providing abortion themselves and also about providing information because of the uncertainty about the law,” she said.
“It leads to abortion occupying a very grey area in medical practice when it should be completely recognised as a medical procedure that a woman has the right to make a choice about for herself.”
She said the legal uncertainty means it can be difficult for women in rural areas to access abortions and that they can be very expensive because they are usually only offered by private clinics.
Currently women do access abortions in those states but they, the doctor and anybody else who assists can all be prosecuted under the New South Wales Crimes Act 1900 and the Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899.
Since a court case in 1971, abortions have been considered lawful in New South Wales if “the accused had an honest belief on reasonable grounds that what they did was necessary to preserve the woman involved from serious danger to their life, or physical or mental health, which the continuance of the pregnancy would entail, not merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, and that in the circumstances the danger of the operation was not out of proportion to the danger intended to be averted”.
In Queensland a judge ruled in 1986 that an abortion would be lawful if carried out to prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical and mental health.
Recent Queensland prosecutions reignite debate
Recent decisions in Queensland courts have reignited debate on a matter than many people had long thought settled.