In 1967, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Abortion Act, which was introduced as a Private Member's Bill.
The Laws are virtually identical based on S58 of the UK Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 with penalties ranging from 10 to 14 years for anyone convicted of unlawfully using an instrument, drug, or other noxious thing with intent to procure a miscarriage on a woman whether she is pregnant or not. Judicial interpretations of what is 'unlawful' under the Crimes Act permit abortion on maternal health grounds only. In NSW abortion is acknowledged to be available, in effect, on demand.
Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
In the ACT the Health Regulation (Maternal Health Information) Act 1998, aka the Osbourne Act, imposed obstacles to abortion. The patient had to be informed of the dangers of abortion and given and shown a booklet containing photos of foetal development. Thereafter she had to wait at least 3 days before having the abortion.
On 23rd of November 23, 2001 Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, announced the repeal of some regulations applying to abortion in the Act. These regulations prescribed the information to be shown to women seeking an abortion and included photographs of foetuses at different stages of gestation. Abortion was later decriminilised in the ACT in 2002.
Queensland and Tasmania
There are provisions virtually identical to the above provisions, with similar penalties but in addition excuse doctors who carry 'out in good faith and with reasonable care and skill, a surgical operation upon any person for his benefit, or upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother life, if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the patient's state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case.'
Legislation is based on the UK Abortion Act of 1967. A doctor who performs an abortion is excused if 2 doctors are of this opinion, formed in good faith:
- that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve greater risk to the life, physical or mental health of the woman or any existing children than if the pregnancy were terminated; or
- that there is a substantial risk that any child born would be seriously physically or mentally handicapped.
Northern Territory has similar provisions to those of South Australia up to 14 weeks' gestation.
In 1998, the WA law, which had previously been virtually identical to that of Queensland and Tasmania, was liberalised to allow abortions in the following circumstances:
a) The woman has given informed consent; or
b) the woman will suffer serious personal, family or social consequences if the abortion is not performed; or
c) serious danger to her physical and mental health will otherwise result; or
d) the pregnancy is causing serious danger to her physical or mental health.
Legislative changes have made abortion legal until 20 weeks' gestation.
The reality is that abortions are being performed on a regular basis in Australia, although access to services varies significantly from region to region. In all regions, a limited number of abortions are performed in hospitals, which tend to strictly interpret the law.
Free standing abortion clinics interpret the law broadly.
The Government Health Insurance Commission funds most abortions through Medicare. (Medicare provides health care services and programs such as free public hospital care, help with the cost of out-of-hospital care, and subsidised medicines.)