Abortion in Queensland FAQ
Is abortion legal in Queensland?
On October 17 2018 the Termination of Pregnancy Bill was passed in parliament, decriminalising abortion. The new legislation came into effect in December 2018. The key points of the bill are below,
- Abortion is now removed from the criminal code and will be available on request as a health service up until 22 weeks gestation. Thereafter the involved medical practitioner must consult another medical practitioner who also considers that, in all the circumstances, the termination should be performed.
- A registered health practitioner with conscientious objection must disclose the objection to the person and refer on to a practitioner or service who, in the first belief, can provide the requested service and does not also have a conscientious objection.
- 150m safe access zones will be enacted around termination service
Prior to this new legislation, it was generally accepted that in Queensland abortion could be lawfully provided in order to protect a woman’s life or her physical or mental health.
Abortion did sit in the Criminal Code in Queensland prior to Dec 3rd 2018, contained in sections 224,225 and 226 which made it a crime to perform an abortion, access an abortion, or supply drugs or instruments to be used in an abortion. Under this law, which dates from 1899, a woman did not even have to be pregnant for charges to be laid.
However, section 282 of the Code defined a lawful abortion as
the performance in good faith and with reasonable care and skill, a surgical operation on or medical treatment of a person or an unborn child for the patient’s benefit; or a person or an unborn child to preserve the mother’s life; if performing the operation or providing the medical treatment is reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case.
A combination of this and case law from 1986 made it generally acceptable to provide for a lawful abortion when it was performed to prevent a serious threat to the life or the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman. Rape, incest and fetal anomaly diagnoses were not grounds for a lawful abortion except insofar as their impact on a woman’s physical or mental health is concerned. For more details see our Queensland abortion law page.
How is Queensland abortion law different to other states and territories?
Most states in Australia were originally subject to abortion laws generally adapted from the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act from the United Kingdom (which was itself reformed in the UK in 1967).
However, most states and territories have re-examined and reformed their laws to varying degrees, starting with South Australia in 1969 (see our Australian abortion law and practice page for more details).
Laws in other states vary from illegal but technically lawful to complete legalisation. On one end of the spectrum is New South Wales, where abortion is deemed unlawful unless a woman’s physical or mental health is at risk – however, in New South Wales, a woman’s social and economic factors may also be taken into account, considerably broadening the availability of lawful abortion.
Queensland along with Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have removed abortion from their Crimes Acts. In the ACT, abortion is legal as long as it is provided by a medical doctor, with all abortion laws fully repealed in 2000; in Victoria, abortion is legal to 24 weeks with the woman’s consent and after 24 weeks with two doctors’ approval, under decriminalisation legislation introduced in 2008. In Tasmania, under a decriminalisation bill passed in 2013, abortion is legal on request to 16 weeks gestation and after that with the approval of two doctors; 150m exclusion zones are also legislated in Tasmania to prevent protesting outside abortion clinics. In Queensland, abortion is legal upon request up until 22weeks, after this gestation period two doctors must approve the termination.
Our Australian abortion law and practice fact sheet has more information.
Is counselling before an abortion mandatory?
No. As an independent counselling and referral service, we support the availability of pre- and post-abortion counselling by independent and all options counsellors for those women who feel this would help them, but do not believe it should be mandatory. Anti-groups groups often push for mandatory counselling to be provided to women considering abortion. The inference is that a) all women need counselling prior to an abortion (something that pregnant women themselves disagree with), and that b) the law should enforce this. The Victorian Law Reform Commission examined the issue of mandatory counselling in their inquiry into the state’s abortion laws in 2007, and their findings coincide with Children by Choice’s position on the ineffective and unnecessary nature of mandated counselling. The Commission’s report concluded that:
“In arguing for compulsory counselling, people generally came from the position that abortion is such a traumatic event, with long-term consequences, that women need counselling regardless of whether they request it. This suggests that women are not fully capable of making their own decisions and require protection.
Compelling a person who has already determined a course of action to attend counselling is unlikely to do much good, but has the potential to do harm. Mandating counselling may result in women having to travel long distances for multiple medical assessments and counselling sessions before they can proceed. This would exacerbate existing inequities.
Any new abortion law should not contain a requirement for mandatory counselling or mandatory referral to counselling.”
How easy is it to get an abortion in Queensland?
Ease of access to abortion in Queensland depends on many things, including the gestation of a pregnancy, the pregnant persons location, and how well resourced financially they are.
Since the recent law change in Queensland making abortion legal on request to 22 weeks, there has been a shift in access. Public hospitals are now required to have a pathway that supports a pregnant person to access a termination if that is what they wish. However, not all hospitals have these fully established as yet. Some hospitals have partnerships with private clinics meaning that if the hospital cannot provide a pregnant person with a termination they can support them through the private system at no extra cost. Currently, there is no publicly available list of what hospitals are providing and which ones have public-private partnerships.
If you live in an area in which your hospital does not currently provide or have a pathway in place, you will have to go private. These services are high quality and offered by experienced clinicians, but also have out-of-pocket costs attached which can make access difficult for some women. These costs can be anywhere from $250 to $4000 depending on the pregnant persons’ gestation and location.
In addition to the high cost barriers for some Queensland women, women in rural and remote areas often face long travel distances to get to an abortion provider.
Although medical abortion is now available through some GPs, there is no public list of certified prescribers so finding a general practice that offers medical abortion can be difficult.
Lack of clear information also impacts on Queensland women’s ability to access a pregnancy termination. A 2004 study found that Queensland GPs were more likely to identify as anti-abortion than the national average (26% Queensland v 20% nationally).
Do Queenslanders support abortion?
Reliable opinion polling has consistently shown for many years that the vast majority of Australians support women’s right to choose abortion.
A survey conducted by Auspoll in 2009 of over 1000 Queenslanders found that 79% of respondents wanted the law changed so abortion is no longer a crime.
A review of over 20 years of data on attitudes to abortion published in October 2009 found that “more than half the electorate in Australia and in Queensland support freedom of choice, and a further third support the availability of abortion in special circumstances… As far as attitudes are concerned, Queensland is no different from the rest of Australia.”
How many abortions take place in Queensland every year?
There is no standard data collection in Queensland regarding the numbers of terminations carried out each year, nor is there routinely-collected national data to give accurate figures for elective abortions in Australia.
South Australian data estimates that more than a quarter of women will have an abortion at some point during their life. There is no reason to suspect the rate would be vastly different in Queensland, but without mandatory data collection on abortion at a state or federal level it is impossible to know.
See our abortion statistics fact sheet for more information about abortion rates and estimates at a state and national level.
Why are there still so many abortions when contraception is readily available?
It is estimated that around half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned. No contraceptive is 100% effective, and sometimes it is used incorrectly or not used every single time a couple has penetrative sex – although in fact the World Health Organisation estimates that even if every couple in the world used contraception perfectly every time they had sex, there would still be six million unplanned pregnancies each year. Sometimes women and pregnant people aren’t in a position to insist on contraceptive use, particularly where violence is involved. It is unreasonable to expect all women and pregnant people to be able to control their fertility for 100% of their reproductive lives – most women and people who can fall pregnant will ovulate for around 40 years of their lifetime, which equates to several hundred menstrual cycles (and therefore chances of pregnancy). Pregnancy is a reality of women’s lives and abortion must be available for when avoiding pregnancy fails.
What about 'late term' abortion?
There is no accepted medical definition for the phrase ‘late term abortion’. It is generally used to describe terminations performed after 20 weeks or 24 weeks gestation onwards, but this depends who is using it. It is used most often in contexts where the inference is negative. Children by Choice does not use the phrase ‘late term abortion’; we refer to first or second trimester terminations, or use the exact gestation in cases where this is known to us, as these references are less judgemental and value-laden than ‘late term’.
With no national abortion statistics available, it is difficult to state categorically how many terminations happen at any gestation. South Australia is one of the only states to collect and publish their abortion data; over 90% of abortions in that state occur in the first trimester each year, with less than 2% occuring after 20 weeks gestation. The majority of post-20 week procedures are provided for fetal reasons.
What about 'post-abortion syndrome'? Is abortion detrimental to a woman's emotional or psychological health?
Every woman or pregnant person experiences the termination of a pregnancy differently, but there is no evidence to suggest that it can cause permanent emotional strain. ‘Post Abortion Syndrome’ is a term used by the anti-choice lobby but has not been widely accepted; the term is not recognised by the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association as a condition, nor is it found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases.
The American Psychological Association’s Taskforce on Mental Health and Abortion reviewed 20 years of research and studies into the psychological effects of abortion and released its final report in 2008. It found that
“[T]he prevalence of mental health problems observed among women in the United States who had a single, legal, first-trimester abortion for non-therapeutic reasons was consistent with normative rates of comparable mental health problems in the general population of women in the United States.”
A small number of women do experience sadness, grief, and feelings of loss following termination of a pregnancy; however, the American Psychological Association and other professional bodies state that there are specific factors which can be linked to poor mental health outcomes after an abortion. These include a lack of support from friends or family for having an abortion, a perceived need to keep it a secret, prior history of mental health problems, and how wanted the pregnancy may have been. Women who feel they have acted against their own values in choosing to have an abortion may also be at higher risk of poor mental health outcomes.
The latest longitudinal study from the United States has found that 99% of women who have had an abortion do not regret their choice.
How safe is abortion?
In Australia, where abortions are performed by highly qualified health care professionals in very sanitary conditions, a pregnancy termination is one of the safest medical procedures, and complications are rare.
The anti-choice lobby use the supposed ‘risks’ of abortion in an attempt to scare women out of having a termination – the three most often used in misinformation campaigns are that an abortion will affect a woman’s future fertility, that it causes breast cancer, and that there are long-lasting psychological impacts of abortion.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, or RANZCOG, states that serious complications after abortions are rare, that mortality and serious morbidity occur less commonly with abortions than with pregnancies carried to term, and that
“women who have an uncomplicated termination are not at an increased risk of being infertile in the future.”
Around the world, reproductive health and anti-cancer organisations have rejected any association between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer. This rejection is based on reliable scientific investigation, documented in reputable medical publications, and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation.
1. Queensland Criminal Code 1899. Available online at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/qld/consol_act/cc189994/.
2. See for example N Cica, Abortion Law in Australia Parliament of Australia Library, Research Brief 1, 1998-1999. Available online at http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp9899/99rp01 Accessed 30 September 2015.
3. Medical Pracitioners (Maternal Health) Amendment Bill 2002; Australian Capital Territory. Available online at http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/b/db_1476/20020515-1804/pdf/db_1476.pdf.
4. Abortion Law Reform Act 2008; Victoria. Available online at http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/alra2008209/.
5. Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Act 2013; Tasmania. Available online at https://www.legislation.tas.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-2013-072.
6. What women want when faced with an unplanned pregnancy Research by WebSurvey, commissioned by Marie Stopes International Australia. November 2006. Available online at http://www.mariestopes.org.au/data-and-research/what-women-want-when-faced-with-unplanned-pregnancy/.
7. Law of Abortion: Final Report Victorian Law Reform Commission, March 2008, pp125-126. Available online at http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/all-projects/abortion.
8. Cited in ‘Abortion on Trial’, broadcast on ABC Radio National on 7 November 2010. Full response is available online at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/abortion-on-trial-in-queensland/2982710#transcript.
9. General Practitioners: Attitudes to Abortion Prepared by Quantum Market Research and Marie Stopes International Australia, November 2004.
10. Queensland voters’ attitudes towards abortion Report prepared by Auspoll, May 2009. Polling commissioned by Children by Choice.
11. K Betts “Attitudes to Abortion: Queensland and Australia in the 21st Century” People and Place vol 17, 2009.
12. N Grayson, J Hargreaves, & E Sullivan. Use of routinely collected national data sets for reporting on induced abortion in Australia. AIHW Perinatal Statistics Unit Sydney, 2005. Perinatal statistics series no. 17 Cat. no. PER 30.
13. W Scheil, J Scott, B Catcheside, L Sage, R Kennare. Pregnancy Outcome in South Australia 2013. Adelaide: Pregnancy Outcome Unit, SA Health, Government of South Australia, 2015. Available online at http://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/about+us/health+statistics/pregnancy+outcome+statistics.
14. Family Planning NSW. Reproductive and sexual health in Australia. Ashfield, Sydney: FPNSW, 2013. Available online at http://familyplanningallianceaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/rshinaust_book_webedition_1.pdf.
15. Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems World Health Organisation, Geneva 2003 p12. Available online at http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/en/
16. Understanding your menstrual cycle: fact sheet. Women’s Health Queensland Wide. Available online at http://www.womhealth.org.au/conditions-and-treatments/understanding-your-menstrual-cycle-fact-sheet.
17. See for example Sedgh G, Henshaw S, Singh S, Åhman E, Shah IH. Induced abortion: rates and trends worldwide. Lancet 2007; 370: 1338–45. Available online at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61786-8/abstract.
18. Report of the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. American Psychological Association, Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington, 2008. Available online at http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/mental-health-abortion-report.pdf.
19. ‘Abortion In Australia’ factsheet by Better Health Channel. Available online at http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Abortion_in_Australia.
20. See for example the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Law of Abortion: Final Report Melbourne 2008, Chapter 8, p117, at http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/content/law-abortion-final-report-html-version. See also ‘Abortion: Did you know?’ on the website of Cherish Life (formerly known as Queensland Right To Life Association) at http://www.cherishlife.org.au/Resource-Areas/Abortion/85
21. Termination of Pregnancy: A resource for health professionals The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, November 2005. Available online at http://www.ranzcog.edu.au/editions/doc_view/480-termination-of-pregnancy-a-resource-for-health-professionals.html.
22. World Health Organisation Induced abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer Fact Sheet 240, June 2000. Cited on the Australian Women’s Health Network website at http://awhn.org.au/abortion-and-breast-cancer-policy/
23. Termination of pregnancy legislation, October 2018. Cited on the Queensland Government website at https://www.health.qld.gov.au/system-governance/legislation/specific/termination-of-pregancy-legislation