South Australian Lower House Passes Abortion Law

February 24, 2021 Updated: February 25, 2021

South Australia is on the way to decriminalising abortion and moving the issue under the general health law after the lower house of the state Parliament passed the bill, following a lengthy debate.

The Termination of Pregnancy Bill (pdf) will now be taken to the Upper House for final approval before the law can take effect. This will make South Australia the last state to decriminalise abortion in the country after New South Wales decriminalised the procedure in 2019.

David Speirs, Minister for Environment and Water, voted against the bill, saying while he did support the decriminalisation of abortion, there were some aspects he disagreed with.

“I did want to put life and the opportunity to create a pathway to life for some more people at the heart of my decision-making,” Speirs told Parliament before the vote. “So I do struggle with supporting a bill that has, I believe, a set of restrictions that are not tight enough for me and my conscience to support.”

Shadow Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis had similar sentiments to Speirs and also chose to vote against the bill.

“I do support decriminalising abortion,” Koutsantonis said. “However, we are being asked also to consider the liberalisation of late-term abortions, and that is very difficult for people like me.”

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who brought the bill to Parliament, wrote in a post on Twitter that it was a historic day for the women of South Australia. In a follow-up post on Twitter, Chapman wrote it was “about giving women choice”.

Changes to Abortion Law

Under the current laws, women who want to have a lawful abortion of up to 22 weeks and 6 days require two medical practitioners’ approval.

Approval can only be given if continuing the pregnancy is deemed harmful to the mother’s life, has a risk of great physical or mental health to the mother, or there is a substantial risk the child will be born with serious mental or physical abnormalities.

The new bill states the mother will now only require the approval of one registered health practitioner.

For late-term abortions—defined as after 22 weeks and 6 days—it is currently against the law to abort a child that is “capable of being born alive”, except in situations where the mother’s life is in danger.

The new bill removes the provision making it criminal to terminate a baby capable of being born alive and allows for late-term abortion to be conducted with two medical practitioners’ approval.

Another change includes protecting women who perform abortions on themselves, which under current laws carry a maximum criminal penalty of life imprisonment.

Additional amendments, including prohibiting abortion based on gender preferences and protecting the rights of medical practitioners who choose to refuse to perform or assist in abortions, were also part of the new law.