Abortion in Australia

Eleonore Bridier Abortion

Access to abortion in Australia is highly variable due to the differing abortion laws between the states and territories.

Second term or second trimester abortion in particular can be very difficult to access. Whether or not you can receive the care you need, in a timely manner, at a price you can afford, depends very much on where in Australia you are seeking an abortion.

More often than not, women who find themselves in the position of requiring a late term abortion have to travel interstate to access the procedure, adding another dimension of difficulty in what may already be an incredibly challenging time.

Here, we summarise the complex laws on abortion across Australia and, in the context of these laws, when, where and under what conditions a pregnancy can be terminated.

If you are looking for termination of pregnancy services in your state, it’s important to note that our clinics always provide services in accordance with legal gestation limits in that state.

Abortion in Australia by state and territory

Abortion laws ACT

Abortion is legal in the ACT when provided by a medical doctor in an approved medical facility.

Abortion laws NSW

Abortion is still criminalised in NSW, however, it is deemed lawful if the pregnancy puts the mental or physical health of the mother at risk. ‘Mental health’ has subsequently been interpreted to include the potential effects of social and economic stress of the pregnancy on the woman or after the birth. There is currently a consolidated push to decriminalise and reform NSW abortion laws.

Abortion laws NT

Both medical and surgical abortion are now legal up to 24 weeks in the NT. For terminations up to 14 weeks, assessment by one doctor is required. After 14 weeks, two doctors are required to access an abortion.

Guide: Abortion in the Northern Territory

Abortion laws QLD

Abortion is still criminalised in QLD, however, a 1986 case determined that it was lawful when a doctor believes a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger. A number of doctors and state MPs have recently called for the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland and for reform of the laws inhibiting access.

Guide: Abortion in Queensland

Abortion laws SA

Abortion is legal up to 28 weeks in SA if two doctors agree that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is endangered by pregnancy, or in the case of serious foetal abnormality. Abortions are provided to residents without a referral, through state health services, in a prescribed hospital setting up to 23 weeks. More detailed information from the Pregnancy Advisory Centre.

Abortion laws TAS

Abortion is legal up to 16 weeks’ gestation in TAS. Beyond 16 weeks, abortion is legal with the approval of two doctors.

Abortion laws VIC

Abortion is legal on request up to 24 weeks in VIC, and is legal beyond 24 weeks with the approval of two doctors.

Abortion laws WA

Abortion is legal up to 20 weeks in WA with some restrictions, particularly for those under 16 years of age. Access to abortion is very restricted after 20 weeks’ gestation.

Late term abortions (20-24 weeks) and the law

While the laws in most states may allow for abortion at later gestations under very restrictive circumstances, access to abortion beyond 20 weeks is extremely difficult.

Victoria is the only state that offers access to late term abortion between 20-24 weeks on request (i.e. without a referral or doctor’s approval) and, currently, we operate the only private clinic in Australia that provides specialised late second term surgical abortion services up to 24 weeks.

It is estimated that only 1% of the 80,000 abortions performed in Australia each year occur at over 20 weeks’ gestation1, and this figure emphasises the exceptional circumstances in which women decide to have an abortion at this stage. These might include detection of a serious foetal abnormality; in cases where the pregnancy is having a severe mental and/or physical impact on the woman, or may involve factors like domestic violence.

Regardless of the circumstances, the decision to have an abortion after the first trimester is never easy and women who are undergoing the procedure need special care and support.

At Marie Stopes Australia, our experienced team of doctors, nurses and counsellors in Melbourne provide safe, surgical abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation, as an alternative to early induced labour. The procedure is performed under intravenous sedation.

For more information and to make an appointment, please follow the links below.

Sources and references