NT decriminalises abortion and legalises access to RU486

Meanwhile there is continued pressure on the NSW and Queensland governments to follow in NT’s footsteps

The Northern Territory Parliament has passed legislation decriminalising and legalising abortion, as well as extending access and related services.

The state’s Health Minister, Natasha Fyles says the new legislation will allow Northern Territory women to access the same medical services available elsewhere in Australia.

“We believe all Territory women are entitled to control over their lives and access to high quality services,” she says.

“That’s why we’ve introduced new legislation that gives Territory women the same access to medical termination drugs, like RU486, that other women in Australia have.

“The changes provide safe options for termination of pregnancy, bringing the legislation up to date with contemporary medical and legal practices.”

Commencing next month, the new legislation will:

  • Remove the requirement for all termination of pregnancy procedures to be performed in a hospital;
  • Provide opportunities for termination of pregnancy services to be provided in ‘out of hospital settings’ such as day surgeries and specialist clinics;
  • Ensure that early medical termination of pregnancy using drugs such as RU486 is possible in ‘out of hospital settings’;
  • Open the way for suitably qualified doctors (other than obstetricians and gynaecologists) to provide termination services for pregnancies under 14 weeks;
  • Ensure doctors and other health staff who conscientiously object to involvement in a termination of pregnancy refer women to a doctor who can provide these services;
  • Include safe access zones around the premises where termination of pregnancy services are provided, to prevent women being harassed when attending and to give suitable protections to those working there; and
  • Change criminal offence provisions under the Criminal Code Act.

The Northern Territory is now added to the list of Australian states that have decriminalised abortion, including the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania.

However in NSW and Queensland, abortion is currently a criminal offence unless it is deemed to be lawful.

This test for lawfulness is often unclear, medical and legal experts have argued.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia last October, lawyer Professor Heather Douglas and obstetrician-gynaecologist Professor Caroline de Costa wrote that these laws are making it too difficult for women and girls to access abortion in a timely and safe manner.

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