Tasmania to decriminalise abortion

HEALTH Minister Michelle O'Byrne will announce legislation today to decriminalise abortion in Tasmania.

The proposed legislation has been modelled on a 2008 Victorian law and will allow medical practitioners to perform an abortion up to 24-weeks' gestation.

After 24 weeks, a woman will be required to get two doctors, one a specialist gynaecologist or obstetrician, to certify in writing that continuing the pregnancy would pose a greater risk to the woman's well-being than termination.

Under existing law, women seeking an abortion need to satisfy two doctors that the termination is necessary and doctors will not perform the procedure if they are more than 12 weeks' pregnant.

If those criteria are not met, the abortion is a crime.

Ms O'Byrne said the changes would allow all women equal access to abortion.

``We have organisations that raise money for women so that they can afford to fly to Melbourne,'' she said.

``What we are really saying here is that the law here should represent what is in practice available to Tasmanian women who have money.''

Ms O'Byrne said the 24-week limit was applied because tests showing some genetic abnormalities could not be performed until 20 weeks. That was the cutoff in Victoria.

She said the legislation was modelled on Victoria because that was where most Tasmanian women had the procedure.

The change has been sought by Family Planning Tasmania and women's and youth health organisations.

Just two Tasmanian doctors perform abortions, and two specialists fly in for weekly clinics.

Ms O'Byrne said removing abortion from the Criminal Code and placing it in a new Reproductive Health Act would remove the uncertainty for doctors and encourage other clinics to open.

``There's very limited medical practitioners who will perform a termination because they are frightened of being sued,'' she said.

Exemptions that allow some lawful access to abortion were made in the Criminal Code in 2002.

Ms O'Byrne said the proposed legislation would make sure the intent of that change was reflected in practice.

``Most people are shocked that a decision to have  a termination still exists within the Criminal Code, and that they could be subject, whether it's them or they support someone, they could be subject to a prison sentence of 21 years,'' she said.

``I would think the vast majority of members in the lower house would be supportive, and I would hope that the upper house would view this as a delivery on the intent of a past decision of the house.''

The draft legislation and discussion paper will be open for consultation until March 22.

The government hopes to table the legislation in the first half of the year.

Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne

Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne