Australian Northern Territory decriminalises abortion

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

Editor’s note. This comes from SPUC–the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

On Tuesday the Parliament of Australia’s Northern Territory [NT] voted to decriminalise abortion and widen access to medical abortion.

The Labor-led parliament voted 20 votes to four 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 also removes a requirement for abortions to take place in hospitals and will ensure that the abortion drug RU486 is available outside a hospital setting [up until nine weeks].

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.

However, 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, President of Right to Life Australia, which expressed concern for the effect the changes would have on Aboriginal populations was described as “racist and offensive” by a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

What Tighe did was to express “grave concern for the welfare of Aboriginal woman living in far flung places, miles away from proper medical care!”

Tighe added the “legislation is part of a nationwide push on the part of Emily’s List [Australia] MPs whose plan is to see the legalisation of no-restriction abortions in all parts of Australia.”