WA catches up with the pack on abortion

3 minute read

Pregnancy termination by a doctor has now been decriminalised in all Australian states and territories.

Yesterday, after a nine-day debate, Western Australia removed abortion from its criminal code, passing new “health-focused” legislation to reduce barriers to equitable access and to timely abortion.

“There remains much to be done to ensure that every person can access abortion care regardless of where they live or how much money they have,” said Human Right Law Centre acting legal director Adrianne Walters in a statement.

“But it is a huge relief to know that abortion will be treated as healthcare in laws across the country, with the focus rightly being on the health, dignity and autonomy of patients,” she added.

WA’s abortion laws, which have remained unchanged for 25 years, will now classify “late-term” abortions as those after 23 weeks gestation, rather than 20, in line with other Australian states.

Patients can now consult with only one healthcare professional to decide to have an abortion up to the 23-week mark, after which point two doctors will still need to be involved.

“The Acts Amendment (Abortion) Bill 1998 was ground-breaking at that time and today in 2023 my government’s contemporary reforms will ensure that our state has modern laws that reflect the society we live in,” WA premier Roger Cook said.

Prior to the new legislation, for late-term pregnancies, two ministeriallyapproved practitioners were required to agree that abortion was clinically necessary due to health concerns for the pregnant person or unborn baby for the abortion to be legal. Additionally, these later-term abortions could only be performed at health services approved by the Minster for Health – which included only two facilities in the WA.

These requirements have been abolished.

Mandatory counselling has also been removed.

Although doctors are still able to consciously object to providing abortion services, the newly passed Abortion Legislation Reform Bill 2023 requires doctors to refer a patient on or provide information on how to access abortion services.

“The changes will support better reproductive health outcomes across WA. The removal of barriers, such as mandated counselling, medical panels and multiple GP referrals, are critical to improving timely access to care. New rules that require objecting doctors to ensure their patients know where to go to get help and that support nurse-led care are also very welcome,” concluded Ms Walters in her statement.

“Abortion care has been treated differently for too long when in fact it is legal and safe mainstream healthcare for women. This legislation will significantly improve access to abortion care for regional women,” added WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson.

Abortion remains an offence for an “unqualified person” to perform or assist with.

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