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Tasmania to amend law to decriminalise abortion

Tasmanian Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne has moved to amend the state’s abortion law to ensure women will no longer face…

Tasmanian Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne has moved to decriminalise abortion in the state. AAP/Scott Gelston

Tasmanian Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne has moved to amend the state’s abortion law to ensure women will no longer face the threat of criminal charges for having a pregnancy terminated.

The proposed changes would bring Tasmania into line with Victoria and the ACT where health laws, not criminal laws, regulate access to the procedure.

“It’s time the law reflected community expectations and medical advances in the safety of the procedure and recognised that unplanned pregnancies will occur,” Ms O’Byrne said today.

“Under the proposed changes, a doctor can perform a termination procedure up to and including 24 weeks gestation as long as the woman has consented.

“After 24 weeks, the obligation to obtain the approval of two doctors will remain.”

The move has been welcomed by the Public Health Association of Australia, which said research had recently revealed many Tasmanians were unaware that abortion was still illegal in Tasmania.

“The fact that the current legislation is positioned in the criminal code has resulted in confusion for medical practitioners. There is misunderstanding about the circumstances in which a termination can be performed legally. This has resulted in poor service delivery, where the public health system does not perform terminations, there is a dependency on fly-in interstate doctors, and a necessity for some women to travel interstate,” said Dr Ingrid van der Mei, president of the Tasmanian branch of the PHAA.

“The new legislation is expected to overcome the current ambiguity and should protect both medical practitioners and patients,” she said.

The move is a sign that people view the Victorian act favourably, said Kate Gleeson, ARC research fellow in politics at Macquarie University.

“It’s a smart law and a modern law taking into account different medical practices now.”

The Victorian law authorises nurses to subscribe medical abortions through abortion pill RU486.

“We don’t know in NSW, but it looks like only doctors can prescribe RU486.

Victoria was really clever by putting in a clause allowing nurses to give medical abortions. No other jurisdiction does at the moment.”

The move by Minister O’Byrne comes as deputy Victorian premier Peter Ryan told the media new Victorian Premier Denis Napthine would discuss changing abortion laws with MP Geoff Shaw.

Dr Gleeson said Victoria’s law amendment was very thorough and it was scare mongering to suggest it might be changed.

“There’s not been a lot of examples of the law changing, but the climate can change in that people think it’s ok to prosecute abortion crimes,” she said.

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8 Comments sorted by

    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.


      In reply to Ron Chinchen

      Ah Ron, a free-market libertarian sort of guy like our Tony wouldn't do that would he? What about individuals, rights to choose, small government, the nanny state ....You're darn tootin' he would. If he could. Still a big if.

      I can hear the bones of Harradine grinding in the ground. He is dead isn't he? Who cares?

      Welcome to the C21 Tasmania... not as scary as it looks.

      And another tassie export bites the dust - underaged pregnant girls.

      Good decision. Good politics. Good health outcomes.

  1. Abbie Noiraude

    logged in via Facebook

    What a sensible and welcomed attitude on women and their health in Tasmania. I wonder when this kind of law could be made under the Fed's so there would be no doubt about the rights of women's access to free and safe terminations.
    I too am fearful under Abbott, and not just about women's rights but about disability rights, single parents ( although the Labor Party have done a mis service here as well as asylum seeker rights), and the concerns of the poor and needy.
    Good on you long will it be till NSW gets its act together?

  2. Martin G. Snigg

    logged in via Facebook

    In a society that claims a tradition of freedom of conscience and expression, laws like the one proposed could not even be imagined, ,let alone conceived, given legal form, delivered, and then accompanied into the highest law making forum in a state's body politic.

    Society is divided about the value of fetal life, some (mainly corporately funded EMILYS LIST'ers) who believe the baby girl or boy can be killed as a kind…

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    1. Tracey Wing

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Martin G. Snigg

      Except unfortunately Martin, most of what Mishka said is seriously misleading or completely untrue. She seems to have a knack for stating things as fact when they are not, and when someone like yourself parrots it as fact, it gives it more credence, which it certainly does not deserve.

  3. Yvonne Wilkins

    Mother, dietitian

    I'm quite shocked how far this proposed law is taking easy access to abortions. I didn't actually realise that the law was already so easy to get abortions at these late stages - now this is proposing that there's no reason needed at all to abort a fetus of even 24 weeks and then for those over that - which are all pretty much ready to survive outside the womb can be aborted for a vague reason of "greatER' risk of mental/physical health to mother. So instead of getting born they are allow, with no…

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    1. Ron Chinchen
      Ron Chinchen is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired (ex Probation and Parole Officer)

      In reply to Yvonne Wilkins

      Yvonne. I understand your moral position on this. But quite frankly, the World needs a more pragmatic approach to birth than one dictated by religious/philosophical belief. We're in trouble as a world and the main reason is over population. And I've seen the consequences of women having children they didnt really want but feel obliged to raise...not pretty.

      Women have been using means to abort or not conceive for tens of thousands of years. And sensibly many of those women chose to abort through…

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