FAQ

Although gendered language has been used throughout this website, we acknowledge that transgender men and non-gender conforming people may also become pregnant, and face additional challenges in accessing reproductive and sexual health care services including abortion.

What is the legal status of abortion in NSW?

A:

Abortion is still contained within the criminal code in New South Wales, at sections 82 to 84 of the Crimes Act 1900. These laws have not changed since they were first written 119 years ago. This means that accessing an abortion is a criminal offence on the part of the woman and her health care provider unless certain conditions are satisfied. In contrast, in most other states around Australia, abortion is regulated as a healthcare procedure. Victoria achieved decriminalisation in 2008, and Queensland in 2018.

Why is the current law on abortion a problem?

A:

The current laws restrict doctors from providing a full range of reproductive health services and make it difficult for women to access the care they need. Criminalisation can make the process of accessing abortion expensive, time consuming, stressful and in some cases, completely inaccessible in NSW. The current law generates stigma, confusion and a fear of prosecution, and can discourage doctors and public providers from providing this reproductive healthcare service.

Criminalisation has a particularly devastating impact on women from disadvantaged or remote communities who lack the financial means to pay for an abortion, or to travel the distance required to access one. At the moment, women facing violence or homelessness often need to seek urgent funding (ranging from $450 to thousands of dollars) from charities, friends or family to access an abortion. Sometimes, they have to travel interstate to access an abortion[1]

[1] Based on clinical experience from Family Planning NSW and Women’s Health NSW. For more on interstate travel, please see: Black K, Douglas H, de Costa C. Women’s access to abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation for fetal chromosomal abnormalities: Views and experiences of doctors in New South Wales and Queensland. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2015; 55(2):144-8. DOI: 10.1111/ajo.12305.

What difference will decriminalisation make?

A:

Decriminalisation is the first step towards improving women’s access to the healthcare they need. It will reduce stigma and remove confusion around the current law, so that doctors and health professionals can put their patients’ needs first and foremost without fear of prosecution. It will also support offering these services in a wider variety of settings, including publicly funded services, to ensure access for all women who have made a decision to have an abortion.

Why do women seek abortions?

A:

The decision to have an abortion ultimately comes down to a woman’s decision not to continue with a pregnancy. Reasons for abortion vary and can include that the woman:
• does not want a child.
• does not want a child right now: she may feel she is too old, too young, or that she wants to focus on her education or career.
• has completed her family or wants to delay having her next child.
• cannot afford the financial cost of having a child (or another child).
• is homeless or experiencing other serious challenges such as illness or addiction.

Other reasons women seek abortions include that the pregnancy resulted from rape or coercion, or that the woman is in a violent relationship and doesn’t feel that it is safe to have a child. A small number of wanted pregnancies end in abortion because of a devastating fetal diagnosis.

A woman may experience more than one of these reasons when making the decision to have an abortion[1].

[1] Based on clinical experience from Family Planning NSW and Women’s Health NSW. See also Finer L, Frohwirth L, Dauphinee L, Singh S, Moore A. Reasons U.S.women have abortions. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. 2005;7(3):110-118. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/3711005; Starrs A, Ezeh A, Barker G, Basu A, Bertrand J, Blum R, Coll-Seck A, Grover A, Laski L, Roa M, Sathar Z, Say L, Serour G, Singh S, Stenberg K, Temmerman M, Biddlecom A, Popinchalk A, Summers, C, Ashford L. Accelerate progress – sexual and reproductive health and rights for all: report of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission. Lancet. 2018;391:2660. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30293-9.

How common is abortion?

A:

Reliable, timely and detailed data on abortion rates in NSW are not available. This gap in important reproductive health information is one of the many issues with criminalisation of abortion.

The most reliable estimates we have about abortion in NSW are based on 2003 figures, and indicate/suggest that about 36,000 abortions could have taken place in NSW in 2018[1]. However, the states for which we have good data indicate marked decreases in abortion rates over recent years, so the actual figure is likely to be lower than this[2].

More recent figures (from South Australia) indicate that one in four Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime[3].

[1]  Figure based on application of AIWH estimate of 22.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in NSW in 2003 applied to the current population (1,626,223 women in NSW in this age group in 2018): Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Use of Routinely collected national data sets for reporting on induced abortion in Australia. 2005. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mothers-babies/use-national-data-sets-reporting-induced-abortion/contents/table-of-contents. Note that this figure includes some other procedures.

[2] Rates were 13.2 per 1,000 women in 2016 in South Australian, down from 16.7 in 2003; and 15 per 1,000 women in 2015 in Western Australia, down from 18.7 in 2003:SA Health. Pregnancy Outcome in South Australia. 2016. Available from: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/4ccbba85-14c6-4b39-a19e-4e8cd54e9ea1/Pregnancy+Outcome+in+South+Australia+2016.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-4ccbba85-14c6-4b39-a19e-4e8cd54e9ea1-mAT252p; Department of Health, Western Australia. Induced Abortions in Western Australia 2013 – 2015. 2018. Available from: https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/Files/Corporate/general%20documents/Data%20collection/PDF/Induced-Abortion-Report-2013-15.pdf

[3] SA Health. Pregnancy Outcome in South Australia. 2016. Available from: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/4ccbba85-14c6-4b39-a19e-4e8cd54e9ea1/Pregnancy+Outcome+in+South+Australia+2016.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-4ccbba85-14c6-4b39-a19e-4e8cd54e9ea1-mAT252p

Will decriminalisation result in an increase in the number of abortions?

A:

There was no spike in either medical or surgical abortions in Victoria after decriminalisation occurred in 2008[1] and we do not anticipate decriminalisation would result in an increase in the number of abortions sought by NSW women. International evidence supports this view, indicating that legality does not significantly impact abortion rates[2].

[1] Family Planning NSW analysis of publicly available Medicare Benefits Schedule, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Therapeutic Goods Administration data from 2006-2018. Note there are some challenges with this data eg. Victorian data on medical abortion is combined with data from Tasmania. In addition, while MBS data for surgical abortion may include a small number of procedures for purposes other than termination of pregnancy, MBS and PBS both fail to capture data for those people seeking abortions who are not eligible for government rebates.

[2] Starrs A, Ezeh A, Barker G, Basu A, Bertrand J, Blum R, Coll-Seck A, Grover A, Laski L, Roa M, Sathar Z, Say L, Serour G, Singh S, Stenberg K, Temmerman M, Biddlecom A, Popinchalk A, Summers, C, Ashford L. Accelerate progress – sexual and reproductive health and rights for all: report of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission. Lancet. 2018;391:2661. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30293-9.

At what stage of pregnancy do abortions normally take place?

A:

Current data on abortion rates in NSW are not available. The most reliable sources indicate that most abortions take place in the first trimester, with between 91.2% and 95% of abortions taking place before 14 weeks gestation, and 0.7% to 2.8% taking place after 20 weeks gestation[1]. Abortions that take place after 20 weeks usually involve complex medical or psychosocial reasons and almost all are carried out within a multidisciplinary context in a hospital.

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Use of Routinely collected national data sets for reporting on induced abortion in Australia. 2005. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mothers-babies/use-national-data-sets-reporting-induced-abortion/contents/table-of-contents. Note that this figure includes some other procedures. See also SA Health. Pregnancy Outcome in South Australia. 2016. Available from: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/4ccbba85-14c6-4b39-a19e-4e8cd54e9ea1/Pregnancy+Outcome+in+South+Australia+2016.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-4ccbba85-14c6-4b39-a19e-4e8cd54e9ea1-mAT252p.

Do women regret abortions?

A:

There is no evidence that abortion causes serious mental health issues for women. Research from the US indicates most women who have abortions feel that they made the right decision three years later. Women who experienced less support and more stigma about their decision to have an abortion were more likely to experience more negative emotions[1].

[1] Rocca C, Kimport K, Roberts S, Gould H, Neuhaus J, Foster D. Decision Rightness and Emotional Responses to Abortion in the United States: A Longitudinal Study. PloS ONE. 2015;10(7):1-16. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128832. For a good overview of the research in this area please see: Black K. Some women feel grief after an abortion, but there’s no evidence of serious mental health issues. The Conversation; 2018 [cited 2019 April 9]. Available from: https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2018/05/02/no-evidence-of-serious-mental-health-issues-for-women-after-abor.html

What do NSW residents think about abortion?

A:

Public sentiment about abortions has shifted significantly over time. In 2016 almost 70 per cent of Australians thought women should be able to obtain abortions readily. This compares with public opinion in 1979 when about 45 per cent of Australians thought abortions should be readily available[1].

[1] Cameron S, McAllister I. Trends in Australian Political Opinion, Results from the Australian Election Study 1987-2016, Australian National University. Available from: https://australianelectionstudy.org/publications/

What is the role of the doctor in an abortion?

A:

The decision to have an abortion ultimately comes down to a woman’s decision not to continue with a pregnancy, as with other decisions a woman makes about her own healthcare.  The role a doctor plays in relation to abortion is similar to the role that they play in other healthcare services: providing accurate and unbiased advice, services and/or referrals (in this case, in relation to pregnancy options and methods for termination).

Do doctors, nurses and other health practitioners with a conscientious objection have to provide abortions?

A:

In two states that have recently decriminalised abortion (Queensland and Victoria), legislation explicitly provides for conscientious objection. For example, the Queensland legislation does not require a doctor or other health practitioner to provide or support the provision of an abortion except in the case of an emergency. This legislation is consistent with the Codes of Conduct of medical peak bodies such as the Australian Medical Association, Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia and the Pharmacy Board of Australia.

Conscientious objectors must inform their patients about their objection and refer them to another health practitioner who does not have the same objection[1]. It is important that this referral take place in a timely manner.

[1] Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018 (Qld) ss8-9.