NT abortion law reform Bill a step forward for women’s health but further reform needed

NT abortion law reform Bill a step forward for women’s health but further reform needed

The Human Rights Law Centre welcomes the Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Bill tabled in the Northern Territory Parliament today but argues that it doesn’t go far enough to truly modernise the Territory’s abortion laws and respect women as competent decision-makers.

The Bill will allow access to the “abortion pill” outside hospital settings and protect women against harassment and intimidation from anti-abortionists.

Adrianne Walters, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “We commend the Attorney-General for improving access to abortion, including the abortion pill, for Territory women and providing protection from harassment. However, the Bill fails to give women decision making power, even in the very early stages of pregnancy. These are serious shortcomings, which need to be addressed before the Bill is passed.”

Ms Walters welcomed the removal of the sections of the Criminal Code that make abortion a criminal offence. However, the section that criminalises the destruction of an unborn foetus remains in the Criminal Code, leaving the legality of later term abortions uncertain.

“Unfortunately, as it stands, a woman will still run the risk of criminal prosecution for accessing an abortion. This is simply unacceptable. Using the criminal law as a tool to regulate abortion at any stage of a woman’s pregnancy is hopelessly outdated and bad for women’s health. The child destruction offence must be repealed. Of course, we need to ensure that those who harm a foetus without a woman’s consent are punished but the law must be adapted to that specific purpose, like Victoria did in 2008,” said Ms Walters.

In pregnancies of over 23 weeks, abortion will only be available to save a women’s life. While very few women seek abortions after 23 weeks – around 1 per cent – those who do are more likely to be in a distressing situations.

“This aspect of the law has cruel and unacceptable consequences. A woman who is 24 weeks pregnant and whose foetus has a fatal abnormality would have no choice but to carry the pregnancy to term. The same for women pregnant as a result of rape” said Ms Walters

“While the Attorney-General has made it clear that she wants to review this in the future, she shouldn’t wait. She should act now so that women who find themselves in such difficult and distressing circumstances are still able to access an abortion if they need it” added Ms Walters.

The Bill also requires the approval of two doctors for pregnancies between 14 and 23 weeks duration.

“Requiring women to seek out two doctors to approve an abortion at this stage does not reflect medical necessity, and only makes it harder for vulnerable women to seek the healthcare they need. It tells women they can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies. The NT Government should pass a law that empowers women to choose what is right for them” said Ms Walters.

For further comments or queries, please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, 0419 100 519