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Abortion decriminalised in SA

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Abortion will be decriminalised in South Australia after reforms to the regulation of the medical procedure passed the upper house on Tuesday.

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The passing of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill means abortion will be moved out of the state’s criminal code and regulated under health law for the first time since 1969.

It also means a pregnancy can be terminated after 22 weeks and six days gestation if two doctors deem the late-term abortion to be “medically appropriate”.

The bill was sent back to the upper house after the lower house added a series of amendments to the proposal during a mammoth 22-hour debate two weeks ago which saw MPs vote to pass the legislation on a conscience vote 29-15.

The amendments tightened the provisions around when a late-term termination can occur, outlawed abortion on the basis of gender selection and requires every patient to be provided with counselling and support information regardless of their circumstances.

Late-term abortions can only be approved if there is a threat to the life of the mother or another foetus, a chance of severe foetal anomalies, or “significant risk of injury to physical or mental health” of the mother if the pregnancy were to continue.

The Legislative Council made no further amendments to the bill and passed the legislation on a voice vote.

The short debate in the upper house and subsequent vote marked the conclusion of a contentious and lengthy debate that saw rallies in support and against the legislation outside Parliament  House, with MPs reporting receiving personal and sometimes “offensive” letters from constituents on the matter.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who introduced the legislation in October last year along with Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink, said the legislation’s passing marked a “historic day for the women of South Australia”.

“It’s been a long and, at times, ugly journey, but finally we have modern termination of pregnancy laws, which make abortion a health issue, not a criminal one,” Chapman said.

“This legislation makes explicit the higher standard of medical care and decision making that already exists in South Australia.”

The decriminalisation brings SA into line with all other states except Western Australia.

Human Rights Law Centre Associate Legal Director Monique Hurley said the parliament’s decision was a “massive win” for reproductive rights.

“We are grateful to the countless people who have been fighting for this long overdue reform, which will see abortion finally treated as the healthcare matter it is,” Hurley said.

“While it is disappointing that a handful of politicians held people’s health to ransom by forcing through some harmful and unnecessary amendments in the lower house, the decriminalisation of abortion in South Australia is a historic moment that we should all be proud of.”

Hurley also called out WA for being the only remaining state to have abortion regulated in part under the criminal code.

Legislation to amend this is currently before the WA parliament.

After more than five years of advocating for reform, SA Abortion Action Coalition Co-Convenor Brigid Coombe said her advocacy group would now move to improve abortion access in the country among other means.

“Obviously we will be continuing to work initially in encouraging and supporting country GPs – and city GPs for that matter – to become accredited,” Coombe said.

“[We’ll also be] educating our community, supporting SA Health in their development of new guidelines for hospital services, particularly for services to women whose pregnancies are over 20 weeks.

“There are issues around the Medicare rebate for medication abortion in primary care, so we’ll continue to work on that.”

Coombe also said she was “very confident” the new law is a lasting reform that will be resistant to attempts to roll it back.

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