Abortion Law Reform

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:34): I rise today to speak about a woman's right to choose, to say let's have a conversation about abortion law reform. It is a topic about which this particular legislature has previously been very willing to speak out. Well before many other jurisdictions, in South Australia we had laws to end the horrors of backyard abortions.

South Australia was the first Australian state to liberalise access to abortion through legislation. Abortion is legally available under certain circumstances in South Australia, though restrictions remain. There is uncertainty around our laws which, while progressive when they were created many decades ago, where we once led we now lag. It is a conversation that we need to have.

It is estimated that half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned and that half of those are terminated. Also, between one-quarter and one-third of Australian women will experience an abortion in their lifetime. It is a conversation in which it is often said by those who support the right to choose and for abortion to be legal that they would want to see it as safe, legal and rare. Now in light of the recent Irish referendum and the laws currently being debated in New South Wales and Queensland, it is the perfect time to say in South Australia, 'Stay calm. Let's talk about abortion.'

One question we might ask is: why are there still so many abortions when contraception is readily available? While the prevention of pregnancies is desirable, it is unrealistic to expect that all sexually active women will never experience an unplanned pregnancy. No contraception is 100 per cent effective and contraception can fail, even when used correctly and consistently. Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates that even if all contraceptive users use contraceptives perfectly in every single relevant encounter, there would still be six million unintended pregnancies every single year.

Studies in New Zealand and Australia of women seeking abortion have shown that over half the women presenting for abortion had been using contraception prior to becoming pregnant. The reality is we live in an imperfect world and things go wrong. Indeed, around one in four Australian men who had used condoms in the previous year reported that at least one time the condom had broken.

Of course, women overwhelmingly support the right to choose. Australians support the right to choose. When a person faces an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy in Australia, they have a range of options but they vary from state to state. In Queensland and New South Wales, that gets the most attention because they have the most restrictive laws. In fact, abortion can be a crime for women and doctors in those jurisdictions and a bill to decriminalise abortion exists in both of those jurisdictions, as do bills for safe access zones.

In Western Australia, it is legal to 20 weeks, with some restrictions, particularly for those who are under 16, and it becomes very restricted after 20 weeks. In the Northern Territory, it is legal to 14 weeks with one doctor's approval, and at 14 to 23 weeks with an additional doctor. It is not legal after 23 weeks unless it is performed to save a pregnant person's life. More recently, it is also illegal to protest within 150 metres of an abortion service. In the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, they have progressed. In Victoria, it is legal to 24 weeks, and after 24 weeks with the approval of two doctors.

In South Australia, where we were the first to liberalise access, a woman needs two doctors. The provisions around abortion still exist in section 81 of our criminal code, right between the abduction of children and offences relating to public order, including riot, affray and terrorism. This is inappropriate. A woman who has not lived in South Australia for the previous two months is also in an invidious position. She cannot access an abortion in this state due to provisions made at the time to stop what they thought would be abortion tourism.

Again, a woman must comply with the requirements and have two medical practitioners—one of whom, according to the law, would be a male because it only refers to a 'he' of that doctor—and satisfy both physical and mental health grounds. Importantly, 'any procedure' did not anticipate medical abortion. It only anticipated surgical abortion. That means a woman who seeks to avail herself of the new technologies, particularly a regional woman, would have to go to a hospital for that treatment. Those treatments are sometimes to take one pill one day and two days later another pill. That is not accessible for a woman living in regional South Australia; however, if she lived across the border in Mildura, she would be able to access that termination. She cannot do so in South Australia. We need to start talking about law reform to really serve all South Australians.

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