One year on, it’s time for NT Government to finish the job on outdated abortion laws

One year on, it’s time for NT Government to finish the job on outdated abortion laws

Northern Territory women have had 12 months of better quality healthcare since abortion laws were reformed last year, however the Northern Territory Government is yet to finish the job.

The Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Act came into effect on 1 July 2017. The laws removed a number of barriers to women accessing safe abortion services outside Darwin and Alice Springs hospitals, including by allowing access to the “abortion pill”. The laws also created safe access zones around reproductive health clinics.

Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that while the laws have been a step forward for the dignity of Northern Territory women there was still a way to go.  

“For the past year, hundreds of women have been able to access the health care they need from specialist health clinics, without the stress of unnecessarily going to hospital. This is a fantastic development. But the laws still take decision-making out of the hands of women – that’s simply unacceptable in 2018.”

“It’s time for the Northern Territory Government to build on the positive developments of the last 12 months and fully respect a woman’s right to choose in law,” said Ms Walters.

When introducing the laws in the Northern Territory Parliament, Attorney-General Natasha Fyles acknowledged concerns that they didn’t go far enough in safeguarding women’s right to health care and promised to review the laws in 12-24 months.

In particular, the laws failed to wipe a section from the criminal code that could still criminalise abortions performed after 23 weeks gestation.

“This aspect of the law has cruel and unacceptable consequences and we welcome the Government’s review. Currently, a woman who is 24 weeks pregnant and whose foetus has a fatal abnormality would have no choice but to continue with the pregnancy. The same for women pregnant as a result of rape. The Gunner Government must ensure Territory women who find themselves in such distressing circumstances can access the healthcare they need in the Territory rather than being forced to fly interstate,” said Ms Walters.

Dr Rosalie Schultz, a General Practitioner, with 20 years’ experience working in the Northern Territory said the laws also give excessive and dangerous law-making powers to an unelected bureaucrat.

"The abortion law reforms of 2017 have improved my capacity to provide world class and best practice reproductive health care for women in the NT. However the ill-defined and exceptionally broad powers given to the Territory’s Chief Health Officer have the potential, in the hands of the wrong person, to undermine women’s access to high quality health professionals and services.”

“Abortion should be fully decriminalised to ensure that reproductive health care is guided by the expertise of health professionals – who receive extensive training, professional development and supervision – and clinic practice standards, rather than by the criminal justice system,” said Dr Schultz.

For interviews with Dr Schultz or Ms Walters please contact:

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