Editors note: The Australian Prayer Network does not support easier access to abortion. This article is re-produced simply to inform our readers of Government plans to embed abortion into our national and state laws and to pray accordingly.

A national approach to abortion laws have been canvassed at a face-to-face meeting of the country’s women’s ministers in Adelaide this past week. All eight state and territory ministers are in favour of discussing a framework that would see each state streamline their abortion legislation and make the procedure more accessible and affordable for women. Abortion is legal throughout Australia but each state and territory has different rules about when, where and how women can access terminations. Victorian Minister for Women Natalie Hutchins said her state should serve as the model when drafting a national plan. “We would support a nationally consistent approach to abortion laws, but we won’t wind back the progress we’ve made on ensuring women are supported to access the services they need,” Ms Hutchins said.

Queensland Minister for Women Shannon Fentiman said having a national agreement on standards would act as a bulwark against any future attempt to roll back abortion rights. Queensland would support a national approach to accessing termination of pregnancy services and the laws that underpin that access. Having a national agreement from all states and territories would also mean it would be less likely for laws to be wound back following a change of government,” Ms Fentiman said. As well as amending state abortion laws, federal changes could be made to Medicare and the Therapeutic Goods Administration guidelines under a national approach. The ministers’ forum comes weeks after the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade – the court decision protecting abortion right in the US – with solidarity protests recently held across Australia.

Hosted by federal Minister for Women Katy Gallagher and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth, the forum focused on policies around women’s safety and gender equality, and the creation of the next 10-year national plan to tackle domestic, family and sexual violence. Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed that improving “equitable access to pregnancy termination services” remained a key measure of success in the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-30, but stopped short of supporting a universal approach. In Australia, medical abortions are available until nine weeks’ gestation, nationally. The limits on surgical abortions vary from 16 weeks in Tasmania to 22 weeks in NSW and Queensland; 22 weeks and six days in SA; and 24 weeks in Victoria. Beyond that timeframe, two doctors must sign off before a procedure can be performed.

The NT allows surgical abortions until 24 weeks but it must be approved by a doctor. In Tasmania, abortions are available until 16 weeks, but only in the state’s three public hospitals as there are no private providers. There is no gestational cut off in the ACT’s legislation, but after 16 weeks women need to travel across the border to Queanbeyan in NSW for the procedure. Western Australia is the only state or territory in Australia where abortion remains under the criminal code. The surgical abortion limit in WA is 20 weeks. After that cut off, two doctors from a panel of six must determine an abortion is necessary because “the mother, or the unborn child, has a severe medical condition”. MSI Australia – the leading provider of abortion services – estimates one in three women living in Australia will have an abortion in their lifetime.

No state or territory fully funds abortion services. In rural and regional areas, it is estimated that as few as 10 per cent of GPs are registered to prescribe mifepristone, the drug also known as RU486, for medical abortions. NSW Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor believes accessibility is the ultimate goal. “Anything that makes it easier for women to access high quality healthcare is always the ultimate goal, and if that means a standardised approach, then I am open to having that conversation,” Ms Taylor said. SA Minister for Women Katrine Hildyard said “it has been terrible” to see women in the US face losing the right to safely access abortion – “a right for which their mothers and grandmothers fought”. Lauren Moss, NT Minister for Equality and Inclusion, believes her Labor government is a “national leader when it comes to safe abortion access”.

“National uniform legislation has its benefits. For the Territory to support a universal proposal, Territorian women’s existing rights would need to be maintained or improved.”Moss said. ACT Minister for Women Yvette Berry believes all jurisdictions should have policies in place that provide “affordable, safe and legal abortion services” and give women the freedom to have control of their bodies. Jo Palmer, Tasmania Minister for Women, said the situation in the US “has caused concern for many women, but it has no bearing on access to surgical terminations in Tasmania”. WA Minister for Women Simone McGurk is taking the first step to decriminalise abortion, and has pledged to bring the state’s “outdated” laws, introduced more than 20 years ago, into the 21st century.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports 

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