Abortion now fully Decriminalised in Western Australia

Abortion was completely removed from the criminal code in Western Australia this week. This makes it the final one of Australia’s states and territories to fully decriminalise abortion.

It had been an emotional debate in WA, following last month’s intervention from Jackie Jarvis, the state’s Agriculture Minister. Jarvis revealed she underwent an abortion in the early 1990s after being raped, though abortion was still illegal in the state at the time.

The state was in fact one of the first (after South Australia and, tacitly, Tasmania) to make abortion legal within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, after passing the measure in the late 1990s. Violations of restrictions around abortion, however, could still previously be met with criminal sanctions and these have been removed.

The measures passed last week also increased the permitted time for abortion from 20 weeks to 23 weeks.

“The laws are about removing barriers to access, particularly for women who live outside the metropolitan centre or outside regional centres,” Minister Sue Ellery told media this week.

It must have been a tremendous moment for the member sponsoring the bill, Susan Ellery, WA’s Minister for Women’s Interests. Ellery was the women’s officer for the National Australian Union of University Students back in 1983. 

The bill passed the Western Australia legislative assembly on Thursday following a conscience vote among parliamentarians. The opposition vote included one Labor representative, and there was also outspoken opposition from the Australian Christian Lobby, led in WA by Peter Abetz.

There has been a striking shift in official political sentiment around abortion in recent years. This may reflect the fact that abortion is not an especially partisan issue in Australian politics, with a clear majority of both Liberal and Labor votes in support of a right to abortion.

One poll found 61% of Australians believe abortion should be legal without question. A further quarter of respondents gave qualified support.

New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia have all removed provisions against abortion since December 2018.

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