Abortion

Wednesday 1st November 2017

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:47): I rise to speak about abortion and the criminal law. The year after my birth, all the way back in 1969, the South Australian parliament liberalised abortion and clearly stated and set the circumstances in which a medical practitioner could lawfully provide abortion services. It was a very progressive movement for its time and it has no doubt meant a lot to many women. However, regardless of this liberalisation, it is almost 50 years ago now, and abortion offences and the requirements for the provision of lawful abortion continue to be set out in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

Abortion is a medical procedure, yet here we are in 2017 and section 82A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 of our state outlines the circumstances in which a lawful abortion may be obtained. The Criminal Law Consolidation Act outlines what a woman can do with her body and her right to choose and treats her like a criminal.

The act says that for an abortion to be legal it must be carried out within 28 weeks of conception, in a prescribed hospital by a legally qualified medical practitioner, provided he or she is of the opinion, formed in good faith, that either the maternal health ground or the foetal disability ground is satisfied. A second qualified medical practitioner must also share the first medical practitioner's opinion that either of these grounds is satisfied. Also, the pregnant woman must have been resident in South Australia for at least two months before the abortion.

Women choose to terminate pregnancies for a number of reasons, none of which I am here to discuss today. What I am here to do is to share my wonder at why something that is clearly a health issue remains part of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. Although our state was the first in Australia to liberalise access to abortion through legislation, we now have one of the most restrictive processes. Given that historical advance, we should not rest on our laurels but bring our laws into the 21st century.

While terminations here are legally available in a hospital or clinic, all abortions must be reported to SA Health. While South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are the only states in Australia to collect abortion statistics, only South Australia releases that data. Women are also required by law to have lived here more than two months and be examined by two doctors—it is too much.

If a woman is in a position where she has chosen a termination, the last thing she needs to do is then be treated like a criminal. She needs the support of our health system under the Health Act. Under SA law, the woman herself can still be charged with procuring an unlawful abortion. Abortion is a medical procedure and is governed by the same rules as other medical procedures. Federal and state laws already exist to stop unqualified people from practising as medical practitioners, nurses or pharmacists. That is what should be illegal under law.

Since the Australian Capital Territory took that step more than 15 years ago, there has been no example of any increase in late term abortions there. Decriminalising abortion will not change late term abortions in this state. Despite what scare campaigners say and what they will have you believe, late term abortions are extremely rare, with nearly 95 per cent of pregnancy terminations in Australia taking place before 13 weeks of gestation. While abortion remains in the criminal law it sends a clear message that the law, as it stands, does not trust women, doctors and nurses to treat these sensitive issues in the appropriate manner.

The criminality of abortion is a persistent barrier to the availability of an important medical procedure. Getting abortion out of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act does not force them to do anything that they would not have done anyway, and it certainly does not make a statement or take a position on abortion. However, what it does do is to make sure that this matter is treated as a health issue and not a criminal issue.

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