1 Introduction

Scope of Report

  1. 1.1 This is the commission’s Final Report on reform of abortion law. This report contains the commission’s recommendations to government about options for decriminalising abortions performed by medical practitioners, and simplifying and clarifying the law.
  2. 1.2 On 26 September 2007 the Attorney-General and Deputy Premier, the Hon Rob Hulls, asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to provide advice on options to clarify the existing law of abortion, and remove abortion offences from the Crimes Act 1958 when performed by qualified medical practitioners.
  3. 1.3 The commission was to have regard to:
  • the existing practice of abortion by medical practitioners
  • existing legal principles that govern abortion
  • the law in other Australian jurisdictions
  • the government’s commitment to modernise and clarify the law while reflecting current community standards and maintaining current clinical practice.
  1. 1.4 The full terms of reference are on p 5. The commission was required to report by 28 March 2008.

What is Not Under Review

  1. 1.5 The commission has been asked to provide options on the decriminalisation of abortion. We have not been asked to address the question of whether decriminalisation is an appropriate policy. Nor have we been asked to make judgments about the ethical and philosophical arguments concerning abortion.

Victorian Context

  1. 1.6 Abortion is a crime in Victoria unless it falls within the exception for therapeutic abortion that was developed by a Supreme Court judge 39 years ago.1
  2. 1.7 On 18 July 2007, the Hon Candy Broad introduced a Private Member’s Bill to remove the crime of abortion from Victorian law.2 The Bill, based on Australian Capital Territory (ACT) abortion legislation, sought to repeal sections 65 and 66 of the Crimes Act.3
  3. 1.8 On 20 August 2007, Premier the Hon John Brumby announced that the government would ask the Victorian Law Reform Commission for advice on options for abortion law reform that removed abortion offences from the Crimes Act and clarified the circumstances in which abortion was legal. He said that on receipt of the commission’s advice the government would introduce a Bill to modernise abortion law, which would be put to a conscience vote.4

Our Process

Information Paper

  1. 1.9 The commission released the short Law of Abortion Information Paper on 27 September 2007. The purpose of the paper was to explain the law in Victoria and in other Australian states and territories. Given the commission’s short reporting time, it was not possible to produce a consultation paper or options paper for this review; however, the Information Paper was designed to provide sufficient information about the current law to inform people who wanted to make submissions.

Consultation

  1. 1.10 The commission conducted broad consultation in the available time, meeting with 36 groups and individuals with different views about abortion. These included faith groups, public and private abortion providers, academics, health service providers, women’s organisations and peak medical bodies.
  2. 1.11 Faith groups involved in the consultation process included the Catholic Church and a leading ethicist from the Catholic tradition, the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, the Australian Christian Lobby and the Jewish Community Council. Other faith groups made written submissions.
  3. 1.12 Consultations with the medical community helped the commission to understand current access to abortion and medical practice. The commission held 15 consultations with, individual doctors, the major public hospital providers of abortion services, privately run abortion clinics, women’s health services, and peak medical bodies.
  4. 1.13 Meetings were also held with youth and disability service providers to discuss the particular issues abortion law reform raises for these groups.
  5. 1.14 The commission greatly appreciates the time these individuals and organisations committed to the consultation process.

Submissions

  1. 1.15 To assist submission makers to focus on the issues raised by the terms of reference, 13 discussion questions were included in the commission’s Information Paper. There was keen public interest in this project as abortion engenders a strong response from some members of the community.
  2. 1.16 We received 519 submissions. Many were from people who disagreed with the government’s decision to decriminalise abortion and called for a change to the terms of reference to allow the commission to consider retaining and strengthening the criminal regime. Many others supported decriminalisation and called for abortion to be treated as a women’s health issue.
  3. 1.17 Information obtained from consultations and submissions is referred to throughout this report and is summarised in Chapter 4.

Medical Panel

  1. 1.18 To assist us to understand current clinical practice we established a panel of medical experts, chaired by the President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Christine Tippett. The other 12 members had backgrounds in gynaecology, obstetrics, paediatrics, genetic science, midwifery and counselling.
  2. 1.19 The commission met twice with the panel. The first meeting focused on ensuring our knowledge of current medical practice was accurate and complete. The second meeting assisted the commission to understand the implications for the medical profession of possible models of abortion law reform. The commission greatly appreciates the time and expertise provided by the panel members.

About this Report

  1. 1.20 This report is divided into four parts.
  2. 1.21 Part 1 considers the current law of abortion in Victoria and other comparable jurisdictions. We then look at current medical practice in Victoria, including: the number and rate of abortions; access to abortion; the need for any new law to accommodate advances in medical treatment, such as RU486; and regulation of medical practitioners who provide abortions. Our terms of reference require us to consider options for reform that neither increase the number of abortions nor restrict current access to services. It is therefore important for the public and decision makers to have a clear understanding of current medical practice.
  3. 1.22 In Part 2 we consider community views. It contains an analysis of major community attitude surveys dealing with abortion and the results of the commission’s own consultations, including an analysis of the submissions received.
  4. 1.23 In Part 3 we discuss and make recommendations about possible reform of abortion laws. This begins with three options for legislative reform. In the following chapters the commission considers and makes recommendations about associated legal issues, such as the offence of child destruction. Counselling and other aspects of abortion service delivery are considered in the final chapter, as are legal issues including conscience clauses, consent requirements and regulation of who may perform abortions.
  5. 1.24 The Appendices consider the values and principles that underpin current laws and possible new laws. They begin with a review of the public policy issues that have historically informed abortion law, and are followed by a description of some of the ethical theories about abortion. Legal developments are then considered, before we turn to the applicability of human rights law to abortion.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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