Abortion has been decriminalised in South Australia, after historic reforms passed the state’s upper house on Tuesday afternoon.
The passage of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill removes abortion from the criminal code, treating it only as a health issue, and permits termination after 22 weeks and six days’ gestation in some circumstances. The legislation ensures patients in South Australia have access to safe and compassionate healthcare, and is similar to laws already in existence in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
The changes will also modernise the rules around early medication abortion in South Australia, and allow easier access for people who live outside Adelaide, in regional and remote areas. Medical professionals who have a personal objection to abortion care will now be required to inform patients where they can get unbiased advice and information.
Renee Carr, executive director of community campaign group Fair Agenda, said the legislation was an important step towards ensuring safe access to healthcare.
“This bill is about providing for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care. A patient might need to end a pregnancy for any number of deeply complex and personal reasons,” she said.
Carr said the passage of the legislation is an historic outcome for South Australia, and is a testament to years of advocacy by pro-choice groups who have championed compassionate healthcare laws.
“We all deserve to feel safe and in control of our lives. And each individual knows what makes sense for their health, their body and their family. We deserve the legal right to make what is a deeply personal decision about our health and life,” she said.
Monique Hurley, the associate legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the abortion reform has been a long time coming.
“This is a massive win for reproductive rights, and the rights of all people to choose what happens to their own body,” Hurley said. “Access to a safe, legal abortion is a critical healthcare right.”
“We are grateful to the countless people who have been fighting for this long overdue reform, which will see abortion finally treated as the healthcare matter it is. We pay particular tribute to the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition for their tireless advocacy efforts.”
The bill was subject to arduous debate in the South Australian lower house last month, and several amendments were made that will see tighter provisions for late-term abortions, a ban on sex selective abortions and a requirement that every patient be provided with information about counselling, regardless of their circumstances.
Hurley said it was disappointing that a handful of politicians “held people’s health to ransom” by forcing through some “harmful and unnecessary amendments”.
Fair Agenda said the ban on sex-selective abortions could lead to healthcare discrimination against some patients, given there is no evidence that shows sex-selection happens in Australia.
“Advocates have warned that such a ban will in practice require doctors to police patients’ reasons for needing abortion car, in order to try and rule out sex-selective abortion as a motivation,” they said.
“Given the difficulty of ruling out any motivation; it is expected to encourage doctors to err on the side of denying care, and result in racial profiling and healthcare discrimination against patients from migrant and culturally diverse communities.
“Given there is no evidence that sex-selection is happening in Australia – rather than addressing discrimination, this ban might actually facilitate it.”
Pro-choice advocates have said the amendment that requires patients to be given information about counselling has the potential to undermine patient autonomy and individual decision-making.
Image source: SA Abortion Action Coalition/Twitter.