Reform of abortion laws dividing state


A PLAN to decriminalise abortion has polarised the Tasmanian community.

Supporters of the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Act 2013, released as a private members' bill by Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne this month, says it would give medical practitioners confidence to perform the procedure without fear of criminal sanctions and allow all women equitable access to abortion.

Opponents say that women can already access abortion in some circumstances in Tasmania, and the bill would allow abortion to occur up to 24 weeks for any reason at all.

They also criticise the bill for impinging on free speech and a doctor's right to object to the procedure.

Medical termination is listed at section 164 of the Criminal Code Act 1924.

It was included in 2002 as an exemption to the crimes of abortion, listed at section 134, and aiding in intended abortion, at section 135. Both those crimes carry a maximum penalty of 21 years' imprisonment.

The code states that the termination of pregnancy is legally justified if:

"(a) two medical practitioners have certified, in writing, that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman than if the pregnancy were terminated; and

"(b) the woman has given informed consent unless it is impracticable for her to do so."

The proposed law states: "The pregnancy of a woman who is not more than 24 weeks pregnant may be terminated by a medical practitioner."

After 24 weeks, the proposed law allows for termination if two doctors have certified in writing that it poses a lesser risk to the woman's mental or physical health (including socio- economic circumstances) than continuing the pregnancy would.

The crime under the proposed law would be impeding a termination: doctors or counsellors who have an objection to abortion who do not refer the woman on to another, non-objecting doctor, face a fine of up to $65,000.

And anyone who engages in "prohibited behaviour," including an anti-abortion protest or harassing or hindering anyone who is the patient or employee of an abortion clinic, within a 150-metre "access zone" radius, could also face a fine of up to $65,000 or up to 12 months' imprisonment.

Submissions on the bill close on April 5.


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