Following the passage of a number of progressive reforms overnight, abortion has finally been decriminalised and access heavily expanded in the Northern Territory.
Abortion, which is currently subject to differing state laws across Australia, was previously listed in the territory’s criminal code, restricted to women who were assessed by two medical practitioners, and could only be performed in hospitals, with only two in Darwin and one in Alice Springs properly equipped to carry out terminations.
But after the Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Act 2017 was passed 20-4 Tuesday night, surgical and medical abortions can now be performed in day surgeries and women up to nine weeks pregnant can access drugs such as RU486. The criminal listing has also been removed.
The reforms mean rural and remote NT women will no longer have to travel to either of those cities for terminations, and brings the territory into line with most of Australia.
The legislation fulfils an election promise by the new Labor government, but Health Minister Natasha Fyles emphasised the [mostly] respectful, bipartisan nature of the reforms:
“I particularly acknowledge the Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro and the Independent members Kezia Purick and Robyn Lambley for their support in the passage of this bill.
“We believe all Territory women are entitled to control over their lives.“That’s why we’ve introduced new legislation that gives Territory women the same access to medical termination drugs, like RU486, that other women in Australia have.”
The legislation also promote safe access zones around abortion clinics, and require that health staff who conscientiously object to the procedure must refer women to doctors who can provide the service.
But while most NT politicians are praising reforms that, frankly, sound long overdue, there were still those four dissenting voices, one of which is kind of terrifying.
Labor’s Gerry McCarthy and Independents Terry Mills, Yingiya Mark Guyula, and Gerry Wood opposed the reforms, with Wood saying they will take the territory back to “the dark ages” and, horrifically, invoking the Stolen Generation:
“It will make abortion more accessible and I have no doubt will increase the number of abortions in the Territory.”“We talk about stolen generations but if the Territory is losing 600 to 1000 unborn Territorians each year, isn’t that a stolen generation lost each year, why don’t we make a fuss about that?”
Right, because women having control over their bodies and access to reproductive health care is definitely the same thing as the systematic, decades-long and actually ongoing destruction of thousands of Aboriginal families.
The legislation means that only Queensland and NSW now have abortions listed under their state’s criminal codes, although the procedure is considered lawful in certain circumstances.
Queensland has the especially niche requirement of convincing a doctor that a pregnancy constitutes a serious danger to a woman’s life or health, and while the state government is also attempting reform legislation was scrapped in late February due to opposition from the LNP.
The NT reforms come into effect in July this year.
Photo: Getty / NurPhoto.