Nurse holding late second term abortion patient's hand

Second term abortion in Australia

Eleonore Bridier Abortion

The variation in laws on abortion between the states and territories means that second term or second trimester abortion can be very difficult to access, and depends very much on where you live.

More often than not, women who find themselves in the position of requiring a later 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 second term abortion can be accessed.

If you are looking for services in your state for second term abortion, it’s important to note that our clinics provide services in accordance with legal gestation limits in that state.

Summary of state and territory abortion laws on second term abortion

Australian Capital Territory: Abortion is legal when provided by a medical doctor in an approved medical facility.

New South Wales: Abortion is still criminalised, 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.

Northern Territory: both medical and surgical abortion are now legal up to 24 weeks. For terminations up to 14 weeks, assessment by one doctor is required. After 14 weeks, two doctors are required to access an abortion.

Queensland: Abortion is still criminalised, 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.

South Australia: Abortion is legal up to 28 weeks 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.

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

Victoria: Abortion is legal on request up to 24 weeks and is legal beyond 24 weeks with the approval of two doctors.

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

Second term abortions at later gestations (20-24 weeks)

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, one of our clinics is the only private clinic in Australia that provides specialised late second term surgical abortion services.

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 a late second trimester abortion 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 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.

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