AFTER EXTENSIVE debate in the Victorian state parliament, opposition from the anti-abortion lobby and threats from the religious right, the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill was passed by the upper house on October 10.

The Bill, which faced 70 proposed amendments, was passed unamended, removing abortion from the Crimes Act. The new law is the most liberal in any state of Australia and allows women to have abortions up to 24 weeks gestation and later if they obtain the approval of two doctors.

The Bill recognises that women are capable of making their own decisions about abortion and that abortion is no longer a crime. It also lifts what pro-abortion campaigner Dr. Jo Wainer refers to as “the burden of shame” experienced by women choosing abortion.

Although the Bill is a significant step forward for women’s rights, it falls short of full decriminalisation by maintaining restrictions on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. While women are not susceptible to prosecution if they have an abortion after 24 weeks, doctors performing abortions are open to criminal penalties if deemed to have incorrectly judged the appropriateness of abortion.

The legalisation of abortion is a victory for pro-choice campaigners and the women’s movement more generally. Some of the amendments that were defeated were requirements for mandatory counselling, parental consent, and removing the requirement for doctors with a conscientious objection to refer women onto other doctors.

The defeat of these amendments is undoubtedly a victory and there are many aspects of the Bill to be celebrated. Other state Labor governments need to follow the lead of Victoria and override what are outdated and repressive pieces of legislation.

By Jasmine Ali

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