Abortion has been decriminalised in some states and territories in Australian (ACT, TAS & VIC), remains on the criminal statues in others (QLD & NSW) and partially decriminalised in the remaining states (WA, NT & SA).
Despite the fact that no woman has been prosecuted in Australia since 2009, and all states where abortion is part of the criminal code have some case law or medical regulations that make it accessible under certain circumstances, the fact that it still exists as a criminal offence is a problem. It means the choice to prosecute depends on police or political matter, rather than legislative change.
Realistically, it’s unlikely any police force or state government would want to open that can of worms, but it does leave women, particularly in Queensland, vulnerable to the conservative religious lobby groups who are still avowedly anti-choice.
As a reminder of how risky this can be, a recent study in Texas found that since imposing restrictions on women’s ability to access safe, affordable abortion has led to an increase in women attempting at home abortions without medical supervision:
…we estimate that somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 women in this age range [18-49] have tried to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance
Misoprostol, sometimes known by the brand name Cytotec, is a prostaglandin-like drug that can also be used alone and can be very effective to induce an abortion, especially when used early in pregnancy…it was the most commonly reported method among women who reported knowing someone who had attempted abortion self-induction. Other methods reported by those who knew someone who had attempted self-induction included herbs or homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.
This research supports other studies that show restricting abortion does not decrease the demand for it, but only decreases the safety of women who need access to it.
Australia women are fortunate in our ability to access safe reproductive services, but these studies, and the ongoing war against a woman’s right to chose in America are a timely reminder that this is never something we should take for granted.