Abortion Law Reform - is it time to decriminalize abortion in NSW?

Abortion (administering or having) has been a criminal offence in NSW since colonization. However, since 1971 NSW case law has established that abortion is lawful in exceptional contexts where it can be established that it is necessary to preserve a woman from serious danger to her life or mental or physical health and it is not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.  

Having to rely on this limited defense is a deeply flawed and unsatisfactory legal position for both women and medical practitioners.  The right to lawful abortion remains uncertain and limited in NSW, which generates reluctance among many practitioners to perform abortions, with serious consequences for many women.

The decriminalization of abortion has long been CCL policy.

There has been recent reform of abortion laws in the ACT (2002) Victoria (2008) and – more limitedly in Tasmania (2013). In these jurisdictions abortion has been decriminalized and is treated as primarily a health issue.

Many activists in NSW who support abortion law reform have been reluctant to campaign around the issue in recent times. This is because of the ever-present possibility that a very conservative NSW Parliament – especially Legislative Council – might react with stronger anti- abortion legislation removing the current lawful defences and thus make the situation far worse for women. 

The NSW Greens have decided to challenge this analysis and are attempting to revive a strong campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in NSW.  

Accordingly Dr Mehreen Faruqi  (Greens MLC) has drafted an abortion law reform bill which abolishes all criminal offences relating to abortion in NS W, as well as introducing some other protections including the establishment of exclusion zones around abortion centres and requiring medical practitioners who conscientiously object to abortion to refer a woman to another practitioner who does not have such an objection. 

NSWCCL has met with  Dr Faruqui and discussed her strategy and made some technical suggestions for changes to the draft bill. We have agreed to support the campaign – although we are very aware of the hostile attitudes of some members of the NSW Parliament and think it likely that the campaign will be a long one.

The Greens are holding consultations about the bill.  They will be holding a public meeting in the Glebe Town Hall on Monday  6th June at 6pm.  We urge interested members and supporters to attend.  

Dr Lesley Lynch

Vice-President