Frequently Asked Questions

This section covers frequently asked questions and common myths.

Question: “What will happen if we take all references to abortion out of criminal legislation?

To quote long time abortion law reform campaigner, Prof Jo Wainer, it will mean ‘everything and nothing’. 

It will mean nothing insofar as women will continue to terminate pregnancies as they always have and always will, but it will mean everything in terms of the laws of our state reflecting modern social understandings of women as rational, responsible decision-makers, rather than treating us as criminals. 

Changing the law will help to reduce stigma, relieve the burden on doctors as gatekeepers and shift the focus of this medical procedure from a criminal issue to the health issue that it is. 

“There is no decision that more affects a woman than the decision to continue or end a pregnancy. There is no other person, agent, institution or body that has more or even equal capacity or moral agency to make this decision than the woman herself.”
A/Prof Jo Wainer, university lecturer, author and long time abortion rights campaigner. 2011.

Question: “But we have to regulate abortion somehow, don’t we?”

If this question has popped into your mind, ask yourself this:  how is open heart surgery regulated?  How are caesarean sections regulated?  How are hip replacements regulated? All of these surgical procedures are infinitely more severe, more time consuming and more complex than a first trimester abortion, yet we don’t think about singling out any of those procedures in law.

There are already adequate laws, regulations and guidelines in place to govern the way in which health professionals work and the standards required of medical and surgical procedures.  There is no need to single out pregnancy terminationprocedures in any area of law for special treatment. 

The usual anti-choice claims of ‘open slather’ and ‘abortion on demand’ are a nonsense.  No one can ‘demand’ any medical procedure.  Health professionals to not respond to ‘demands’, they inform their patients of options and discuss the patient’s individual circumstances before coming to an agreed course of action or referral elsewhere. 

“Women are capable of making informed and wise choices about their lives and to otherwise imply puts equal rights back hundreds of years…” Prof Caroline de Costa 2010

Question: what do other states and territories do?

Over several decades, states and territories have amended and updated their laws due either to community demand, such as Victoria in 2008 or in a reactionary way when there is an immediate danger that the laws will actually be used to prosecute and jail women and doctors, as in WA in 1998 and Tasmania in 2001. 

A summary of the current law and practice across Australia is available on the Children by Choice website

The trend over time is for states and territories to reduce or remove totally the barriers and conditions for safe legal abortion.  The ACT and Victoria provide the most progressive and least complicated models.  Neither has experienced any negative outcomes from their reform.

Myth:  abortion causes breast cancer / infertility / mental illness / [insert medical condition here]

There are many false claims made by anti-choice groups who use such scare tactics to intimidate women. 

Overwhelmingly, the most extensive, robust, scientifically valid research shows that legal abortion is far safer both physically and psychologically than childbirth.  Much of it is summarised in the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s 2008 report.  A few examples are provided below:

In 2012 researchers in the United States reviewed seven years of patient outcomes for legal abortions and childbirth and concluded that“Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth”

The world’s largest, most comprehensive and systematic review into the mental health outcomes of induced abortion has been published by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges at the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.  Their review of 44 published studies spanning over 20 years finds that its unplanned pregnancy, not abortion, that is stressful for women.

Some of the most common myths are debunked on the Australian health website Better Health Channel here:

More general information about abortion is provided here:

Myth: Changing the law will lead to an increase in abortions 

The ACT in 2002 and Victoria in 2008 removed all reference to abortion from their criminal legislation and there is no evidence that the rate of abortions has changed as a result. 

Internationally, many studies have shown that if women want to terminate their pregnancy they will find a way to do so, regardless of the law.  The following studies demonstrate that restrictive laws do not stop or reduce abortions.  They can, however, harm women. 

This study published in The European Journal of Public Health studied rates of abortion in one country before and after law reform.  It found that decriminalisation had no impact on the number or rate of abortions, but it did mean less travel to other countries for women to access the service.

Taking a global perspective, when looking at laws and rates of abortion around the world in 2007, Sedgh et al publishing in the Lancet found:

“The findings presented here indicate that unrestrictive abortion laws do not predict a high incidence of abortion, and by the same token, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with low abortion incidence. Indeed, both the highest and lowest abortion rates were seen in regions where abortion is almost uniformly legal under a wide range of circumstances.”

“it’s an awe-inspiring force, the iron determination of a woman who refuses to bear a child that she knows she cannot mother. Down through the ages, no religious anathema, no legal proscription has been able to weaken the adamantine power of her refusal.”  Helen Garner, in the Foreword to Lost: illegal abortion stories, edited by Jo Wainer 2006.

Terminations later in pregnancy

The vast majority of terminations happen prior to 12 weeks, with less than 1% after 20 weeks, and there are many complex reasons this tiny proportion of later terminations(Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2008, Law of Abortion: Final Report. p36

Most of the medical tests to detect foetal abnormality, genetic defects and the like, cannot occur until at least 18 weeks, and in some cases due to maternal health condition or limited access to services, until 20 or 24 weeks.  Some routine tests can produce uncertain results necessitating further more specialised testing to enable a reliable diagnosis. 

Putting a gestational limit on the legal availability of terminations can do more harm than good and can result in an increase, rather than decrease, in later terminations.  For example, if a routine test is done at 18 weeks with an indeterminate result, and a more specialised test to confirm a medical condition cannot be done until, say 22 weeks, and the legal cut off is 20 weeks, then women may terminate pregnancies at 18-19 weeks based on an uncertain test, rather than wait to find out for sure if their pregnancy is healthy or not, only to lose the option to terminate if it is not. 

In their submission to the Victorian Law Reform Institute inquiry into abortion law, Gynaecologist Dr Lachlan de Crespingy and editor of Journal of Medical EthicsProfJulian Savulescu describe the reality of medical practice in this area:

“There is currently an unreasonable contrast between obstetric and neonatal management after 20 weeks. Paediatricians may decide not to treat a baby even if there is some chance of survival. Yet at the same gestation, with the same prognosis, late-abortion is likely to be refused. Apparently, the fetus inside a woman’s body has a higher moral status than newborn infant of the same gestation outside the body. This is inconsistent and indefensible.”

Myth: all religions are opposed to abortion

While most pro-life advocates are religious, the majority of religious people support choice. For instance, the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that 77% of Australians with religious views support a woman's right to choose.

Most religions have conflicting teachings on reproductive issues and are open to interpretation.  A good summary of teachings from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism can be found in the Centre for Reproductive Rights 2005 briefing paper: Religious Voices Worldwide Support Choice.

Catholics for Choice have a very clear position on their website:  “Catholics for Choice believes in a world where everyone has equal access to the full range of reproductive health-care services—including access to safe and legal abortion services and affordable and reliable forms of contraception.”

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