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Abortion and the Law (SA)

South Australia was the first Australian state to introduce liberal abortion laws. Abortion is legally available in some circumstances, but tight restrictions still exist and the state retains criminal penalties for abortions performed unlawfully.

When is abortion legal in SA?

Section 82 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act sets out the circumstances in which abortion is legal in South Australia. Abortion is lawful if the termination is carried out by a qualified medical practitioner in a case where the woman has lived in South Australia for at least two months and the doctor and another qualified medical practitioner are of the view that:

  • Continuing the pregnancy would risk the life or the physical or mental health of the woman (taking into account her actual and reasonably foreseeable environment); or
  • There is a substantial risk that the baby would be born with serious physical or mental abnormalities and be severely handicapped.

The procedure must be carried out in a hospital except in circumstances where the doctor believes the procedure is urgently necessary to save the life of or prevent injury to the pregnant woman.

The legislation provides that no one is under an obligation to perform a termination if they have a conscientious objection to doing so.

Where is abortion available?

An abortion can be obtained at the Pregnancy Advisory Centre in Adelaide at no cost. Abortions can also be obtained at prescribed hospitals in South Australia. Some private obstetricians and gynaecologists also perform abortions.

Abortion offences

There are three criminal offences relating to unlawful abortions under the South Australian Criminal Code Compilation Act, all of which can attract custodial sentences.

Attempts to procure abortion

Section 81(1) makes it an offence for a pregnant woman to take a poison or other noxious substance or use an instrument with the intention of bringing about her own miscarriage. This offence is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.

Section 81(2) makes it an offence for a person to administer a poison or noxious substance or use an instrument with the intention of bringing about a woman’s miscarriage. This offence is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.

Procuring drug or thing for abortion

Section 82 makes it an offence to unlawfully supply a drug or other noxious substance or any instrument knowing it is to be used to unlawfully bring about a woman’s miscarriage. This offence is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for three years.

Law reform

A push to change South Australian abortion laws is underway, after the Greens introduced a bill to decriminalise abortion and introduce ‘safe access zones’ around abortion clinics in late 2018. The changes, if passed, would bring South Australia into line with other states such as Queensland that have introduced similar measures.

While opponents of the changes fear they would leave abortion unregulated, their supporters say it would be regulated like any other medical procedure.  Current South Australian laws do not distinguish between surgical and medical abortions, meaning that women in rural areas often have to travel long distances to obtain RU 486, or the ‘abortion pill’ at a prescribed hospital. South Australia’s abortion laws are the most restrictive in the country despite the state originally being the first to liberalise abortion laws.

A conscience vote on the Greens’ bill is expected in the near future.

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