A historic bill to decriminalise abortion in South Australia has passed the State Parliament’s Lower House, following a heated and lengthy debate.
Members of Parliament were granted a conscience vote on the bill, which moves abortion from the Criminal Law Consolidation Act and into healthcare legislation.
The bill was passed just after 2:00am on Friday, with 29 in favour and 15 against.
It will also allow late-term abortions — defined as after 22 weeks and six days — to occur when deemed “medically appropriate” by two medical practitioners.
However, several amendments were added to the bill after extensive debate that saw provisions strengthened around informed consent.
Late-term abortions will only be approved if there is a threat to the life of the pregnant person or another foetus or if there is a significant risk of serious foetal anomalies associated with the pregnancy.
They will also be approved if the continuation of the pregnancy would involve significant risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant person.
When determining whether to perform a termination, a medical practitioner must also consider whether the patient has had difficulty accessing timely and necessary specialist services before the pregnancy reached 22 weeks and 6 days, including patients experiencing significant socio-economic disadvantage, cultural or language barriers and those who reside in remote locations.
The Lower House also passed an amendment that prevents the termination of pregnancy on the basis of gender.
‘This is about giving women choice’
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said it was an historic day for the women of South Australia.
“It makes abortion a health issue, not a criminal one, and makes explicit the higher standard of medical care and decision making that already exists in South Australia,” Ms Chapman said.
“This is about giving women choice.
“It’s about removing outdated barriers to access for women, while ensuring safeguarding measures are in place where necessary.”
Labor MPs Stephen Mullighan and Tom Koutsantonis, and Liberal backbencher Stephen Knoll and Liberal MP David Speirs voted against the bill.
The proposed legislation still needs to pass the state’s Upper House.
Mr Speirs said while he always supported decriminalising abortion, there were aspects of the bill he did not support.
“There were some changes and not all the changes that I wanted got up,” Mr Speirs told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“What we saw last night in my view was a historic step forward in terms of moving abortion from the criminal code to the health code.
“I think that’s a great thing for women.”
People ‘struggling with their conscience’
Mr Speirs said Parliament had worked at its very best throughout the debate to reach an agreement.
“There was an immense amount of respect between the two sides on this debate,” he said.
“And there probably were more than two sides because there were lots of people in the middle struggling with their conscience and struggling with different aspects of this bill.
“We fleshed out the issues and we had many amendments and votes along the way.”
Labor’s Susan Close said she felt everyone was able to make their views felt.
“This is a very important day for South Australian women and all the medical professionals who work in this incredibly difficult and complex part of health,” she said.
“People who work on the termination of pregnancies have been doing it under the shadow of it being in the criminal code.
“As long as this goes through the Upper House, which we have every reason to assume it will, then that is no longer the case.”