Abortion in Australia

In Australia, unlike many other countries, abortion is a State issue, meaning that different laws apply in different states. In most states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania), abortion law is unclear, and historical court rulings have allowed abortion in cases where pregnancy poses a threat to the life or health (including “mental health”) of the woman, or in other “hard cases”. In practice, as in New Zealand abortion exists on demand. In the Australian Capital territory, and Western Australia the legal ambiguity has been resolved by formally legalising abortion on demand, although with some restrictions in Western Australia. Victoria looks set to follow this pattern, with the Government planning to introduce a Bill to achieve this. This represents both a danger and opportunity for pro-lifers. The downside is it means that no future court can reverse the Menhennitt ruling, the 1969 court ruling which allowed abortions to be preformed where the woman faces “a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth)” in the continuation of pregnancy, or a strict interpretation of the ruling (20 000 abortions are preformed every year in Victoria, and its unlikely many of the 20 000 would involve a “serious danger” “not being … normal” to her health). The upside is that is does give the pro-life side the opportunity to (hopefully) pass ammendments to the Bill, to restrict abortions in certain circumstances, as they managed to do in Western Australia in 1998, with the new law requiring girls under 16 to inform one parent and prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in casses where the fetus is abnormal or disabled.

The other piece of news about abortion in Australia is at the federal level. Currently, the australian taxpayer is required to fund abortions at home (as its included in the medicare health scheme), but doesn’t have to overseas, as Australia has rules prohibiting foreign aid funds going to groups that preform or promote abortion. A liberal MP is trying to remove that ban, but it won’t be voted upon until next year. This means it will be vote on by a Parliament with a Labor majority (asuming Rudd wins, which is likely given current polling) as will the Bill in Victoria. However, there is no guarentee that the pro-life side will loose on these issues as the Australina Labor party is more centrist than the New Zealand one.

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