The Northern Territory Government should demonstrate its commitment to women’s health and equality by modernising the Territory’s outdated abortion laws said the Human Rights Law Centre today in a submission to the Northern Territory Government’s discussion paper on abortion law reform.
While the Government’s proposal would make some welcome changes, including improving access to the “abortion pill” and protecting women against harassment and intimidation from anti-abortion protestors, it falls far short of accepted medical standards and community values.
Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, Adrianne Walters, said that the law is especially restrictive for pregnancies of more than 23 weeks, which make up around 1 per cent of all abortions nationally, with abortion only permitted to save a woman’s life.
"Under the current law, a woman who is 23 weeks pregnant and whose foetus has a fatal abnormality would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. The same for women pregnant as a result of rape. This is just plain cruel and hopelessly out of step with community values. The law needs to be broad enough to support women in the different and difficult situations they find themselves in," said Ms Walters.
"Women know what is best for their bodies and lives. The NT Government should seize this opportunity to pass a law that empowers women to choose what is right for them, rather than telling them that they can’t be trusted to make decisions," Ms Walters added.
The Territory’s current abortion laws are some of the worst in Australia. The submission calls on the Government to stop using the criminal law to restrict women’s access to abortion and to start respecting women as competent decision-makers.
"We know that restricting women’s choices is bad for women’s health. Criminalising abortion does not stop women having abortions, it just causes confusion and fear for women and doctors. It forces women to travel interstate or risk unsafe clandestine abortions," said Ms Walters.
"The Government doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel on this issue. There are good models in Victoria and the ACT, and also being considered by the Queensland Parliament. It’s not good enough to tinker around the edges – the NT Government must use this chance to bring abortion laws into line with modern medical practice and community values," said Ms Walters.
The HRLC’s submission is available here.
For further comments or queries, please contact:
Adrianne Walters, Human Rights Law Centre – 0432 049 383