Tabled in Parliament Date:
Unlawful abortion had been a crime in Victoria since the state’s foundation. Despite many calls for the law’s reform to accord with changing values and technology, the Victorian Parliament permitted the offence to remain on the statute book unchanged since 1865. In September 2007, the government provided terms of reference to the Commission for legislative advice on the decriminalisation of terminations of pregnancy.
Following the publication of an information paper in September 2007, the Commission held more than 30 meetings with people involved in abortion law reform. These included faith groups, public and private abortion providers, academics, health service providers, women’s organisations and peak medical bodies. We also held meetings with youth and disability service providers to discuss the particular issues abortion law reform raises for these groups. To provide advice and information about clinical practice, we set up a panel of medical experts with backgrounds in gynaecology, obstetrics, paediatrics, genetic science, midwifery and counselling. Two academic lawyers were also consulted the commission. Our call for community contributions led to 519 submissions.
From this comprehensive research and consultation process, the Commission’s final report, tabled in Parliament on 28 May 2008, provided three legislative models for the decriminalisation of abortion.
In August 2008, a Bill was introduced in Parliament that reflected Model B in the Commission’s report. All parties allowed members of Parliament to make a conscience vote and the Bill was passed in October 2008.
The Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 decriminalised abortion. Under the Act, a woman can access abortion up to a gestational limit of 24 weeks. Beyond that, a medical practitioner can provide an abortion if another medical practitioner agrees that an abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances.
Medical practitioners who object to abortion do not have to provide information to a client, but are required to refer the client to another doctor who can provide the information.
- Terms of reference received
- Submissions and consultations
- Submissions closed
- Final Report
- Tabled in parliament
Why did the law need to change?
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.
What was the Comission's task?
I, Rob Hulls MP, Attorney-General for the State of Victoria, refer aspects of the law governing termination of pregnancy to the Victorian Law Reform Commission. The Commission is to provide advice on 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.