Access to safe and legal abortion in Australia 

In last month’s newsletter, we highlighted the news about Ireland’s referendum on abortion.

This month there has been much Australian news on this topic, which reminded us that safe access  to legal abortions is still an issue in Australia. In the ACT termination of pregnancy has been legal since 2002, and legislation was passed in October 2015 by members of the ACT Legislative Assembly to establish protected areas around termination of pregnancy services to ensure safe and private access for women and their support people.

Yet in the last week we saw ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja join a group of conservative MPs condemning new NSW laws making it illegal for people to communicate, film or intimidate patients near abortion clinics.

NSW only recently became the fifth Australian jurisdiction to enact legislation that establishes safe-access zones around abortion clinics. But the NSW legislation does not decriminalise abortion. This remains in the NSW Crimes Act but is subject to exceptions on grounds of physical or mental health, with reference to economic or social factors.

Queensland’s abortion laws (which only allow abortion when the continuation of the pregnancy poses a serious risk to a woman’s physical or mental health) are under review. The review will look at how the laws should be amended, as well as whether to include safe-access zones.

And in Victoria the legislation about safe access zones has been challenged in the High Court by Kathleen Clubb, an active member of the anti-abortion group known as Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.  And Tasmania’s safe-access zones are also the subject of a challenge brought on the same constitutional grounds. This one was brought by Graham Preston, a Queensland-based anti-abortion protester, who has been convicted of breaching the Tasmanian legislation.