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Abortion law in Australia: it’s time for national consistency and decriminalisation

Caroline M de Costa and Heather Douglas
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (9): 349-350. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.00543

Current Australian abortion laws continue to disadvantage many women

It is almost 7 years since abortion was decriminalised in Victoria, where a doctor can now terminate a pregnancy at up to 24 weeks with the woman’s consent, and after 24 weeks with the agreement of a second doctor. This change has not resulted in increased numbers of abortions, which have remained stable over many years.1 Earlier, in 2002, the Australian Capital Territory had removed all criminal sanctions for abortion. Abortion was decriminalised in Tasmania in 2013; here a doctor may perform an abortion at up to 16 weeks with the woman’s consent, and after 16 weeks with the additional agreement of a second doctor. In all remaining Australian jurisdictions, a patchwork of differing abortion laws operate. Only in the ACT has regulation of abortion been removed completely from criminal law.2 These legal inconsistencies have significant ramifications for the access of Australian women to abortion.

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  • Caroline M de Costa1
  • Heather Douglas2

  • 1 James Cook University, Cairns, QLD
  • 2 University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Johnston WR. Historical abortion statistics, Victoria (Australia) [website]. www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/australia/ab-aust-vic.html (accessed Jul 2015).
  • 2. de Costa C, Douglas H, Hamblin J, et al. Abortion law across Australia — a review of nine jurisdictions. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 2015; 55: 105-111.
  • 3. Dickinson JE. Non-invasive prenatal testing: known knowns and known unknowns. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 2014; 54: 397-399.
  • 4. Davis C, Douglas H. Selective reduction of fetuses in multiple pregnancies and the law in Australia. J Law Med 2014; 22: 155-173.
  • 5. Jones E. Implementing protest-free zones around abortion clinics in Australia. Syd Law Rev 2014; 36: 169-184.

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