Last week, Ireland had a referendum on abortion, and the result was a landslide. 66% of people voted ‘yes’ in favour of reform. Ireland, a country once dominated by Catholicism, now plans to try and legalise abortion for a foetus aged up to twelve weeks. Previously, abortion had only been available in cases where the woman’s life was at risk. All other forms of abortion were illegal, and punishable.

This may have you wondering about the state of the contentious issue here in Australia. And, as you might expect, it’s complicated.

Abortion procedures are part of the health system, so they fall under the jurisdiction of individual states and territories, not the country as a whole. That means that abortion is different depending on where you live.

The numbers

There is wide-spread support for abortion in Australia. A study from the Medical Journal of Australia in 2010 showed that 87% of people believe abortion should be lawful in the first trimester (the first twelve weeks) of pregnancy.

Numbers vary a little bit on how many abortions are actually performed in Australia every year. But the most recent findings from ABC in 2017 place it around 65,000 a year. It’s estimated about a quarter to a third of Australian women will terminate a pregnancy at some point in their lives.

Abortion is expensive. While abortion drugs cost less than $40, a study in 2017 found that the average cost for a patient was around $560, once factoring in clinic fees and doctor visits. And it gets more expensive the further along the pregnancy. The same study said one in three women have trouble finding the money. Regional women suffer from a much higher cost, as the cost of travel to medical services can be very high.

Medical versus surgical

Medical abortions involve taking two pills over a two day period. It can generally be performed up to nine weeks into gestation. This process is highly effective and safe.

Surgical abortions are generally low-risk, and involve removing the lining and contents of the uterus via a gentle suction. These are most commonly performed in the first trimester, less frequently in the second, and in rare circumstances the third.

Queensland

The state of the cane toad and XXXX still considers abortion a criminal offence. An unlawful abortion can mean up to seven years in prison for the patient, and up to fourteen years for the doctor.

In 2016, a 12 year old had to face the Queensland Supreme Court to be given permission to have an abortion. In 2010, a Cairns couple were prosecuted for acquiring an ‘illegal’ abortion, but a jury found them not guilty.

Abortion is lawful when a doctor considers it necessary for the woman’s physical health or mental well being. Rape, incest and foetal abnormality are not grounds for a lawful abortion.

New South Wales

The blues still think abortion is a criminal offence too. And it can land you ten years in prison.

Like Queensland, an abortion is considered lawful if they believe the woman’s mental or physical health is at stake.

A bill was introduced into NSW Parliament last year by Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi to decriminalise abortion, but it was voted down. The Parliament is currently considering a law that would make it an offence to film or photograph staff or patients of abortion clinics without their consent. (Similar laws have passed in Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.)

Victoria

Victoria, having enough taste to stay out of ‘State of Origin’, differs from its Northern cousins. Abortion is legal in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. After 24 weeks, it’s still legal, but requires approval by two doctors, who must agree it’s in the patients best interests.

Tasmania

Home to quaint markets, freezing temperatures and…legal abortions up to 16 weeks. It’s legal after 16 weeks with the approval of two doctors.

The state’s only dedicated abortion clinic closed in January, and so there’s pressure on the Tassie government to come up with a reasonable alternative that gives improved access to surgical abortions. The current situation means that almost all women who access abortion services in Tasmania are forced to go through the private system, making it an expensive process. So far, the government has extended its travel assistance scheme to allow women to go to Melbourne for abortion services if they have a referral from their GP.

South Australia

Wine! Also, legal abortions up to 28 weeks if two doctors say you’re in danger. The procedure, whether medical or surgical, must be performed in a hospital. Under SA law, a woman can still be charged for obtaining an unlawful abortion.

Western Australia

The big state has legal abortions up to 20 weeks. Women must be given the opportunity to participate in counselling before hand. Women under 16 have to inform one parent.

After 20 weeks, things become VERY difficult. You need approval from two doctors out of a statutory panel of six (appointed by the Health Minister). They must agree that the woman or foetus has a “severe medical condition”.

ACT

Home to, uh, Parliament and…not much else. But also legal abortions, as long as it’s in a hospital. And you can’t protest within fifty metres of an abortion clinic. The Greens are trying to give women the opportunity to have medical abortions at home or through their GP.

Northern Territory

Red dirt, bloody big rocks, croc attacks every day, and legal abortions up to 23 weeks. Beyond 23 weeks, the pregnant woman’s life has to be in danger for an abortion to go ahead.

The reform in Ireland has made big international news, and we may start to see some splash back here in Australia.

For all the latest, we’ll be back at the end of the week.


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Photo at the top thanks to Guardian Media Services.

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