Abortion laws 'ambiguous, outdated' in Qld and NSW, doctors argue.

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An article published by the Medical Journal of Australia today said the laws are outdated and should be reformed.

The authors of the article argue the laws are ambiguous, outdated and leave both patients and doctors in a potential legal bind.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.


In April this year a 12-year-old girl had to get the permission of the Queensland Supreme Court to have an abortion

Professor de Costa said that delayed the abortion by a month, which would have been emotionally distressing.

In 2010 a couple in Cairns was prosecuted for terminating the woman’s pregnancy

They were acquitted but the case prompted local state MP Rob Pyne to introduce two bills to Parliament to have abortion removed from the criminal code

“The whole community here was outraged that for a young woman and man to be put on trial for deciding they were too young to start a family was just the height of ridiculousness and totally out of place in a modern liberal democracy like Australia,” he said.

He hopes his bill will be debated before Christmas.

Zoe’s Law narrow defeat prompts NSW bill

In 2013, a bill was introduced in New South Wales that would have declared unborn babies “legal persons”.

It was prompted by the death of an unborn child when the mother was hit by a car

The bill was defeated, but a Greens Upper House Member Mehreen Faruqi said it showed the tenuous legal status of abortion.

“It did show all of us that we would always be defending our rights as long as abortion still sat in the crimes act,” Dr Faruqi said.

She has introduced a bill to remove abortion from the Crimes Act, to create access zones 150 metres around abortion clinics

Katrina Haller from Right To Life Australia said that would do more to protect the interests of abortion clinics than women.

She said abortion should not be viewed as a medical procedure.

“Abortions shouldn’t be allowed because they violate the right to life of the pre-born child, if the mother is in some difficulty, some crisis because of the pregnancy she should be offered help consistent with continuing the life of her child,” she said.

“If she doesn’t want the child, plenty of other loving couples would love to have the child.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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