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Australian Northern Territory decriminalises abortion

22 March 2017


The abortion drug mifepristone, or RU486, will now be available in the Northern Territory.  

The Parliament of Australia's Northern Territory has voted to decriminalise abortion and widen access to medical abortion. 

The Labor-led parliament voted 20 votes to four on Tuesday in favour of a bill to amend the NT Medical Services Act and the criminal code. The changes decriminalise termination by removing legislation making it illegal to provide an abortion or supply a woman with abortion drugs.

Abortion without restriction 

The law removes a requirement for abortions to take place in hospitals and will ensure that the abortion drug RU486 is available outside a hospital setting. Unlike what would happen if abortion is decriminalised in the UK, a doctor's approval will still be needed for abortion of pregnancies up to 14 weeks, and two doctors for between 14 and 23 weeks. According to Right to Life Australia, the upper gestational limit is to be reviewed 12-24 months post enactment of the bill, meaning that abortion to birth without restriction could be on the horizon.

Limited conscience rights and buffer zones 

The amended laws will require any doctor who conscientiously objects to abortion to refer to another doctor, and legislated for "safe access zones" around clinics, generally known in the UK as buffer zones. 

In changing the criminal codes to decriminalise abortion, the Northern Territory left Queensland and New South Wales as the only jurisdictions in Australia where abortion is a criminal offence. Several amendments were proposed by politicians who opposed the legislation, but none were accepted by the government. A media release by Margaret Tighe of Right to Life Australia, which expressed concern for the affect the changes would have on Aboriginal populations was described as "racist and offensive" by a Member of the Legislative Assembly. 

The media release also said that the "legislation is part of a nationwide push on the part of Emily’s List ALP MPs whose plan is to see the legalisation of no-restriction abortions in all parts of Australia."

News in brief:

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Comments (1)
  • Rob Pollnitz

    23 March 2017, 1:50am

    Sadly this will lead to increased use of RU486 in remote areas and beyond 9 weeks gestation, and there is no provision for the ten per cent of women who will have an incomplete abortion with retained products and need curettage. Where this is delayed there are known risks of major infection and toxic shock and worldwide there have been over 30 maternal deaths caused in this way. Not a smart law for a large territory with distant medical services.

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