Termination of Pregnancy/Abortion
Information on who to contact and how to proceed in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. Also information on family planning clinics...
Abortion and the Law
In Australia the law surrounding abortion is defined by each state. Abortions can be carried out legally everywhere in the country to protect the health of a woman, though the precise definition of this differs depending on the state or territory. In most of the country the laws relating to abortion can be summarised as follows:
- It is against the law to administer any poison or use any instrument or other means to procure a miscarriage.
- It is an offence for a woman to attempt to bring about her own miscarriage.
- It is an offence to supply the means (a drug or instrument) to procure a miscarriage.
There is no legal requirement for a woman's partner to consent to an abortion, nor is there an enforced waiting period before one may be carried out. The laws surrounding abortion in Australia are inconsistent and often confusing, both for women and for health professionals
A summary of the legal status of abortion services in each state or territory is given below:
Abortion is available to a woman over the age of 16 in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy provided she has given informed consent. Women seeking an abortion should contact their family doctor or visit a family planning clinic and must be advised that counselling is available. Informed consent cannot be given by women under the age of 16. For women under the age of 16 a parent must be involved in the counselling process, or a court order to proceed must be obtained from the Children's Court.
After 20 weeks an abortion is only possible at some facilities and after approval by a panel appointed by the Minister for Health.
Abortion is legal in South Australia up to the 28th week of pregnancy. The opinion of two doctors must be sought and the abortion may only take place in an approved clinic. Parental consent is needed for women under the age of 16.
- To find out more about abortion in South Australia: Click here and scroll down to Abortion to download the information pamphlet
The Northern Territory is one of the most conservative regions of Australia in terms of abortion law. Abortion is allowed in approved clinics or hospitals and with the approval of two doctors in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy. Between 14 and 23 weeks abortion is allowed if a doctor deems that it is necessary to prevent grave injury to the woman's physical or mental health. Beyond 23 weeks abortions are only carried out to save a woman's life. Parental consent is needed for women under the age of 16.
In Queensland, abortion is generally considered to be lawful if the pregnancy poses a serious risk to a woman's physical or mental health, beyond those that are normal during pregnancy and birth. A pregnancy can also be terminated if the foetus has a defect which is considered to be "inconsistent" with life. Abortions are only possible in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy after an initial consultation with a family doctor.
New South Wales
Abortions are considered lawful in New South Wales if the pregnancy puts the mental or physical health of the mother at risk. Any of a woman's life circumstances, not just medical aspects, can be used to justify the need for an abortion. Abortion services are available up to weeks 18 to 20 of pregnancy. A woman of 14 or 15 years of age can give informed consent for an abortion if a doctor deems her mature enough to do so. Under the age of 14 women need consent from a parent or guardian, or a Supreme Court before they can have an abortion.
- For more information on abortion law in New South Wales: Click here
Note: In both New South Wales and Queensland the legality of abortions is based on a common law interpretation of the criminal code. This makes it difficult to determine legality and can lead to significant confusion for both doctors and women.
Abortion is permitted in an approved clinic or hospital with the approval of two doctors. The pregnancy must be considered a serious risk to the woman's physical or mental health based on any relevant, not purely medical, reasons. The woman must give informed consent. Abortions are also allowed for serious foetal abnormalities. Counselling is compulsory.
Abortion is legal in Victoria and is not criminalised. A woman of any age can legally access an abortion in Victoria until the 24th week of pregnancy. Abortion is legal after 24 weeks, but usually only when the pregnancy shows severe foetal abnormalities. Two doctors must agree on the need for an abortion based on a woman's medical, physical, social and psychological circumstances.
- To find out more about abortion in Victoria: Click here
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory is the only other state that does not refer to abortion in its criminal code. Abortion is allowed at all stages of a pregnancy. In the first twelve weeks of a pregnancy a termination can be sought at a private or public clinic. Beyond twelve weeks the approval of a panel of doctors is needed.
Terminating a Pregnancy
A woman's right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy is supported by the Australian general public. However, public funding for abortion services is limited in much of the country, and information is often hard to find.
In any part of Australia a woman should initially contact her family doctor or family planning clinic for information or advice. Some public hospitals carry out abortions at no charge, but paying for the service is usual, with fees varying significantly between providers. Medicare may refund some of the cost. Abortions can take place in public or private hospitals and clinics.
There are a number of online support services for women considering terminating a pregnancy. These include:
- Children By Choice: unbiased support and information on abortion as well as counselling services throughout Queensland. Their website also includes a summary of abortion laws in each state as well as a list of clinic locations throughout the country
- Sexual Health & Family Planning Australia: gives links to family planning services and clinics in each state. They offer counselling and support to pregnant women
- Pregnancy Help Australia Ltd: provides advice and support at centres throughout the country; the centres are listed on their website