Abortion reform passes SA upper house

A bill to reform South Australia's decades-old abortion laws has passed the upper house.
A bill to reform South Australia's decades-old abortion laws has passed the upper house.

A bill to reform South Australia's abortion laws, and treat the procedure as a health issue rather than a criminal one, has passed parliament's upper house.

The bill was passed early on Thursday and will now go to the lower house where it will also be subject to a conscience vote.

The SA Abortion Action Coalition said the majority of South Australians wanted to see abortion treated as a health procedure, with recent polling showing nearly 80 per cent support for decriminalisation.

"This bill will remove barriers to access to healthcare, particularly for those in rural and regional areas, through enabling early medication abortion, telemedicine services and eventually care provided by registered health practitioners, such as registered nurses and midwives," coalition convenor Brigid Coombe said.

"This bill will reduce the stigma associated with abortion, consistent with the community's respect for women's autonomy in their reproductive health decisions and care."

When the legislation went before parliament, Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said it applied a new, highly regulated, medical model to govern the termination of pregnancies.

"Our proposal removes abortion entirely from the criminal law, a move that would bring us in line with all other Australian states and territories," she said.

"This is based on the understanding that it is a medical procedure which should be treated like any other health issue."

Under the proposed laws, an abortion can be performed by one medical practitioner up to 22 weeks and six days gestation.

After that period, a medical practitioner can only perform an abortion if they consult with another practitioner and if both are of the view that the procedure is medically appropriate.

Backing the proposals, the Australian Medical Association said the legislative change would not result in an increase in the number of abortions.

"This is a women's health issue and for too long I've seen women who are really damaged, hurt and going through traumatic decisions," AMA state president Chris Moy said.

"To have the burden of criminalisation is inappropriate and must end."

However, a number of doctors oppose the new measures, with a group recently writing a joint letter urging MPs to vote them down.

Premier Steven Marshall previously indicated his support, telling reporters it was time for reform.

"The current bill goes right back to 1969 and really lags behind best practice across the country," the premier said.

But he said he would also wait to see the form of the bill presented to the assembly before making a final decision.

Australian Associated Press