Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Abortion and the law in New South Wales

Abortion and the law in New South Wales

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 09/2005 by Talina Drabsch
The practice of inducing an abortion has existed for many years and remains controversial to this day. The debate on the availability and regulation of abortion services can at times be extremely divisive, yet surveys have found that the majority of Australians are fairly moderate in their view of how accessible the procedure should be. Whilst this paper highlights some aspects of the current debate, it is primarily concerned with the way abortion is regulated in New South Wales, throughout the rest of Australia, and in some overseas jurisdictions.

Section one (pp 1-12) of this paper defines some of the key terms used in the context of abortion. It also provides a statistical overview of the number of abortions in Australia and the characteristics of those who undergo the procedure. Nevertheless, the limitations of abortion statistics are noted. This section also outlines the position of those who are ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ and examines the results of a survey of the attitudes of Australians toward abortion. It discusses the competing rights and interests that may be involved, namely those of the pregnant woman, foetus, biological father and medical staff.

In section two (pp 13-18), a history of the development of the law on abortion is included. It describes the various statutory provisions that have operated in the United Kingdom, and their impact on the development of abortion law in Australia.

Much of the law on abortion continues to be located in the various Crimes Acts and Criminal Codes that apply in Australia. Section three (pp 19-25) examines the law in New South Wales, noting the relevant provisions of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and the judicial interpretation of these sections in the case of R v Wald. The civil matter of CES v Superclinics (Australia) Pty Limited is also considered. This section notes some of the parliamentary attempts throughout the years to increase the restrictions on the provision of abortion services in New South Wales.

Section four (pp 26-34) compares the regulation of abortion in the various Australian jurisdictions. In Tasmania and Western Australia, the threatened prosecution of medical practitioners who performed abortions after decades of non-prosecution sparked recent reform of the law. The Australian Capital Territory is the only jurisdiction to have completely decriminalised abortion.

The regulation of abortion in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America is discussed in section five (pp 35-49). This is preceded by a brief overview of the different stances toward abortion worldwide.

Finally, various aspects of the current debate on abortion are discussed in section six (pp 50-59). Some of the weaknesses of the current law are noted, and opinions on whether abortion is best characterised as a health or criminal issue are analysed. This section examines some of the benefits and concerns associated with the use of emergency contraception and the abortion pill, and discusses the implications of late-term abortions. The use of ‘bubble-zone’ legislation to protect providers of abortion services is also considered.