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Abortion legislation must prioritise best medical practice and patient care
The Termination of Pregnancy Bill in its original form recognises that abortion should be placed completely under health law and regulations, as all other medical procedures are. SA’s regulatory health framework is comprehensive, stringent, multi-layered and patient-focused, and in the Society’s view does not require there to be further prescriptions on the circumstances in which abortions can be conducted.
Whilst, in the Society’s view, the Bill ought to have passed without amendment so that medical decisions are appropriately left to doctor and patient and regulated under health laws, the Society acknowledges that the amendments tabled by the Attorney-General (and subsequently passed) are designed to provide additional clarification about circumstances in which it can be expected it would be medically appropriate for a "late term" termination to be performed.
The Bill as introduced to Parliament, which required the agreement of two doctors to deem a termination as medically appropriate, ensured that best medical practice and patient care was the number one priority. It also ensured that our legislative regime would not stigmatise a woman who is facing the complex and difficult situation of having to consider an abortion, or put doctors and patients at risk of acting unlawfully for providing or receiving appropriate medical care.
Late term abortions are rare, but there are legitimate medical reasons why women may, on doctors’ advice, consider terminating a late term pregnancy – such as the late detection of severe foetal abnormalities, or due to serious physical or mental health risks faced by the mother (which might exist, for example, in circumstances where the pregnancy arises from rape).
Concerns about a spike in late term abortions or women wanting abortions for frivolous reasons are misplaced. SA already has robust ethical and practical codes, regulations and laws covering the health profession, as well as conscientious objection provisions.
The thoroughly researched SALRI report into abortion laws indicated that late term abortions were very uncommon, even in jurisdictions where abortion is decriminalised, and late terminations were only conducted if the medical implications were dire. The SALRI report also determined that “abortions purely on the basis of gender are not a real issue in Australia” and that any legislative requirements regarding sex selection were likely to be unenforceable and could cause delay or restrict access to abortion services.
The original Bill updates a 50-year-old, antiquated law, brings it into line with contemporary attitudes and the law in all other jurisdictions in Australia, and most importantly, prioritises best medical practice and patient care over moral judgment.
REBECCA SANDFORD, PRESIDENT, LAW SOCIETY OF SA