Legalise Abortion Now!

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As Greens upper house member Mehreen Faruqi prepares to introduce new legislation to state Parliament, more than 100 law and criminology academics have weighed into the call for abortion to be legalised in New South Wales.

It may be surprising to some that abortion is still a crime in New South Wales. But in recent weeks, more than 100 academics have added their signatures to a letter supporting the decriminalisation of abortion and calling for privacy zones to be introduced around abortion service providers and clinics.

Luke McNamara, the University of New South Wales law professor who organised the letter, said criminal law should reflect social and community expectations.

“Values have changed… it is widely recognised that it’s appropriate for a woman to have the right to choose an abortion, and criminal law should not be inconsistent with that basic principle,” he said.

Abortion is illegal in NSW

Law experts fear the mere fact that abortion is technically defined as a criminal offence could be enough to stop some doctors performing the procedure.

Currently there are various laws in New South Wales relating to unlawful abortions.

This includes section 82 of the Crimes Act 1900 (‘the Act’), which makes it a crime for a pregnant woman to unlawfully administer a drug or poison, or unlawfully use an instrument, to procure a miscarriage, and section 83 which states makes it a criminal offence for other people to intentionally cause a woman to suffer a miscarriage using unlawfully administered drugs, poison or instruments.

The maximum penalty for these offences is 10 years imprisonment.

Under Section 84 of the Act, supplying or procuring a drug, poison or instrument with knowledge they may be used unlawfully to procure a miscarriage is also an offence, attracting a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

However, since the 1970s there have been legal precedents which permit abortions in NSW where there is an ‘economic, social or medical ground or reason’ and a doctor honestly and reasonably believes the procedure would avoid ‘serious danger to the pregnant woman’s life or her physical or mental health.’

Essentially, these circumstances mean that abortion is rarely, if ever, treated as a crime and prosecuted.

Is the change merely symbolic?

Some might say that given abortion crimes are rarely prosecuted, removing them from the law books is merely a symbolic act. However, Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi, and the many criminal and legal experts who stand behind her, believes removal would go some way towards removing the stigmatisation that may be associated with having an abortion.

They wholeheartedly support a change in legislation, saying people will always be entitled to their own personal, moral or religious-based views of abortion, but our antiquated laws need to change in line with broad-based community views of what should be considered a crime.

They contend that by changing it, we send a strong message that women have the right to make a choice, legally.

Faruqi’s Bill will go before parliament in the coming weeks.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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