Law of Abortion: Terms of Reference

In September 2007 the Attorney-General asked the Commission to provide advice about options to:

1. Clarify the existing operation of the law in relation to terminations of pregnancy.
2. Remove from the Crimes Act 1958 offences relating to terminations of pregnancy where performed by a qualified medical practitioner(s).

In providing this advice the Commission should have regard to the following:

A. Existing practices in Victoria concerning termination of pregnancy by medical practitioners.
B. Existing legal principles that govern termination practices in Victoria.
C. The Victorian Government's commitment to modernise and clarify the law, and reflect current community standards, without altering current clinical practice.
D. Legislative and regulatory arrangements in other Australian jurisdictions.

The Commission should report no later than 28 March 2008.


The Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) provides that it is a criminal offence to bring about, or to attempt to bring about, or to assist a person to bring about, an unlawful termination of pregnancy. The circumstances in which termination of pregnancy is lawful has been left to judicial determination. 

For many years in Victoria a woman has been able to lawfully seek a termination of her pregnancy by a medical practitioner in certain circumstances. Nearly 40 years have passed, however, since the primary Victorian case which explained the operation of the law and described the circumstances in which a termination of pregnancy would be lawful.

It is essential that the law is modernised, clear and widely understood. This reference is designed to provide the government with recommended options to have in place clear laws which reflect current clinical practice and community standards. The government’s aim is that reform should neither expand the extent to which terminations occur, nor restrict current access to services.

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