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Access to abortion in NSW

Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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Access to abortion in NSW

In NSW, abortion is legal – however this wasn’t always the case.

Whilst abortion is a widely practiced medical procedure in NSW and the rest of Australia, until recently it was the only medical procedure criminalised in NSW – even though most abortions were funded by Medicare, performed by doctors in freestanding clinics, and regulated in the same way as any other medical procedure.

In 2019 and after fierce political debate in the NSW Parliament, legislation was passed decriminalising abortion. The law in respect of abortion in NSW is now governed by the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019. The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 makes it clear that abortion – or ‘termination of pregnancy’ – is regarded as a health issue rather than a crime .

Read more about the legislation here.

Options for abortion

There are two options available for abortion:

  • medical abortion (‘abortion pill’)
  • surgical abortion

What is a medical abortion?

Medical abortion is available up to nine weeks from the start day of a woman’s last period. A medical abortion involves taking one tablet during the medical appointment followed by further tablets to be taken 24-48 hours later at home.

What is a surgical abortion?

The more common type of abortion is a surgical abortion. Most surgical abortions are carried out from seven to fourteen weeks from the beginning of a woman’s last period. A surgical abortion is generally carried out in a freestanding clinic by either a GP working in reproductive health or a gynaecologist. Before the abortion, you will need to have an ultrasound and blood test. Usually, surgical abortions are done under sedation, or light anaesthetic. To have a surgical abortion you will need to be at the clinic for approximately four hours.

A pregnant woman may elect either procedure within the allowable time frames after consulting with a doctor.

After 20 weeks

Two specialist medical practitioners must be consulted for abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and the procedure must then be performed in a hospital or approved health facility. There are specific conditions regarding abortion of pregnancy after 22 weeks and a doctor will be able to provide the appropriate advice in such circumstances.

Where can you access the procedure?

Abortions must be performed by a registered doctor – this includes GPs who have relevant training and qualifications in reproductive health.

You do not require a referral from a doctor to go to an authorised abortion clinic – you can access abortion facilities directly for an appointment. See Family Planning NSW for more information here.

If you are under 16

Your doctor will be able to assist and help you understand the process to ensure you are able to make an independent and informed decision. If you are a young person, it is always advisable to have a support person attend at the doctor with you. See Youth Law Australia here.

Rights and privacy

The decision to have an abortion is yours. All medical professionals have a responsibility to protect your privacy – unless they think you are a major risk of harm to yourself or others.

According to Family Planning NSW, most abortions in NSW are performed under 12 weeks of pregnancy and services for abortion are generally available up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Potential threat to a woman’s right to an abortion

As at the date of this publication, there is a Bill before Federal Parliament – the Religious Discrimination Bill  – which if passed will mean that women could well find it more difficult to access abortion services.

That’s because health practitioners with an objection to performing the procedure on religious grounds may have stronger legal protection and may not be compelled to refer women to an alternative provider who does not have such objection.

Having to delay an abortion as a result of having to find a doctor prepared to perform the procedure could easily mean that the abortion cannot be carried out. Timing issues are critical.

Read more here.

More information about abortion can be found here:

Family Planning NSW

NSW Government summary of Abortion Law Reform Act 2019

NSW Pro-Choice Alliance

Contact us

If you or a loved one would like to speak with one of our caring, expert, female lawyers please get in touch or call us on 02 4929 3995.

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