Decriminalise abortion, Australia told at the United Nations

Decriminalise abortion, Australia told at the United Nations

Australian governments should respect a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body by removing abortion from criminal laws the Human Rights Law Centre told the UN Human Rights Council in a statement delivered in Geneva overnight.

The Council debated an expert report on discrimination against women during its current session, which warned about the heightened risk of death and injury for women when abortion services are restricted through criminal laws. The expert report describes the criminalisation of abortion as “inherently discriminatory”.

Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that as a wealthy nation and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Australia should be a world leader on promoting reproductive health rights both in word and practice.

“It’s frankly outrageous that in 2018 in Australia, a woman still has to fight for the basic right to access a safe medical procedure. Australia has heard that the criminalisation of abortion stigmatises women’s bodies and forces some women to turn to medically dangerous options, while causing many others distress and hardship,” said Walters.

Australia’s reproductive rights record is being put under the spotlight on the world stage just as Queensland looks to modernise 119 year old laws and pressure builds for reform in New South Wales and South Australia. Only Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have comprehensively decriminalised abortion.

“Victoria and the ACT have led the way and shown that it is possible to reform abortion laws to respect a woman’s dignity and humanity. Those states dragging their heels, like Queensland and New South Wales, are exposing women needlessly to harm,” said Walters.

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Restrictive abortion laws, and women’s privacy and safety when accessing reproductive health services, will also come under scrutiny when Australia faces the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women next week.

“Most of us take for granted being treated as capable decision-makers when we see our doctor. But the law in most Australian states denies this basic decency when it comes to abortion. The vast majority of Australian’s support a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion in consultation with her doctor. It’s time for laws across Australia to catch up,” said Ms Walters.

This is the Australian Government’s second session as a newly elected member of the Human Rights Council. The Government was elected to the Council last year on a promise to uphold women’s rights.

In its incoming pledge to the Council, the Australian Government promised to approach its three year term "in a spirit of self-reflection with a view to improving our own human rights situation".

"Australia can show the world that it is a leader in promoting women’s rights by ensuring that all women in Australia are supported, in law and practice, to decide what is best for their bodies and lives,” said Walters.

This Human Rights Council session runs until 6 July. The Human Rights Law Centre will attend every day of the Council session and provide regular updates on the Australian Government’s actions.

Read: The Human Rights Law Centre’s statement here.

Watch: The Human Rights Law Centre's statement here.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519