Roe v Wade: 40th Anniversary - What has changed?

Friday 25 January 2013 @ 2.01 p.m. | Legal Research

With last Tuesday marking the 40th anniversary of the US Supreme Court Decision in the famous abortion case of Roe v Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973)), it seems time to look at the status of Australian abortion law and how it reflects with the landmark decision.

Roe v Wade was a landmark decision and reverberated globally due to the fact that it found that Texas State Law prohibiting abortion was unconstitutional. Although this showed a public opinion swing in the early 1980's, it has taken many years for Australian State laws to adapt, define or medicalise abortion rights.

ACT: Became the first Australian State in 2002 to legalise abortion by passing the Crimes (Abolition of Offence of Abortion) Act 2002, removing abortion as a criminal act entirely.

NSW: Bases most of its abortion law on precendent found in case rulings, stating abortion to be legal if a doctor found 'any economic, social or medical ground or reason' that an abortion was required to avoid a 'serious danger to the pregnant woman's life or to her physical or mental health' at any point during a woman's life.

NT: Treats abortion as necessary only if, under section 11 of the Medical Services Act, in certain circumstances it is lawful for a medical practitioner to give medical treatment with the intention of terminating a woman's pregnancy.

QLD: Has based its abortion laws largely on those found in VIC before 2008 with abortions carried out as "therapeutic miscarriages", performed by specialists, upon request of the patient after an appointment with their local GP.

SA: Legalised abortion in 1969 and continued through the Criminal Law Consolidation (Medical Termination ff Pregnancy) Regulations 1996 when necessary to protect the life or physical or mental health of the woman – taking into account the current and reasonably foreseeable future – or in cases when the child was likely to be born with serious handicaps.

TAS: Clarified its law in late 2001, through the Criminal Code, to state that an abortion must be carried out under a set of criteria resembling those of the South Australian requirements.

VIC: Passed sweeping changes to abortion laws in 2008 with the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008, stating that abortion is legal up to 24 weeks (with abortions after that time requiring two doctors to agree that it is appropriate, based on the women's current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances

WA: Through its Criminal Code Compilation Act and Health Acts, has the most liberal attitude to abortion until ACT's new laws in 2002. It remains a medicalised definition allowing abortions to be performed up to 20 weeks of pregnancy on request and subject to counselling.

With so many types of abortion laws in Australia, questions have been raised about the increasing medicalisation of abortion law and whether this has any relation to the unconstituionality first espoused in Roe v Wade.

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