On Monday, Justice Minister Andrew Little announced the details of a bill amending the abortion legislation.
The bill will be voted on in a conscience vote.
The first reading is likely to be on Thursday.
Salient aspects of the proposed legislation
- Abortion is removed from the crimes act.
- A woman who is not more than 20 weeks pregnant can self-refer to an abortion provider without the need for any statutory test. Last year only 57 of the more than 13,000 abortions performed were for a woman who was more than 20 weeks pregnant.
- A woman who is more than 20 weeks pregnant must consult a health practitioner.
- The health professional may approve an abortion after 20 weeks if the practitioner reasonably believes the abortion is appropriate given the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health and well-being.
- It ensures health professionals advise women of the availability of counselling services if they are considering an abortion or have had an abortion. Counselling, however, is not mandatory.
- Safe areas around specific abortion facilities may be established by regulation on a case-by-case basis. This was not one of the recommendations of the Law Commission, which suggested it “could not see a strong case” for excluding protesters, but did say the issue warranted further consideration.
- Practitioners who object to providing abortions on the grounds of conscience must inform the pregnant women about their objection and inform the woman that she can obtain the services elsewhere.
- It will still be a criminal offence for unqualified people who attempt to procure an abortion on a pregnant woman or supply the means for obtaining an abortion.
- It will still be a criminal offence to cause the death of a fetus by causing harm to a pregnant woman.
In October last year the Law Commission recommended three options for reform:
a) There is no test – the woman decides with her health practitioner.
b) There is a test – the woman would need to prove the abortion is appropriate.
c) There is a test only for later-term abortions – beyond 22 weeks.
Some commentators say the government has gone with the most conservative of the options.
Voice for Life spokesperson Kate Cormack said the Bill was “radical” and “extremely disturbing”.
Reform campaigners, on the other hand, are pleased with the changes, but some feel they have not gone far enough.