Article Australia: Northern Territory Abortion Law Amended to Improve Access to Late-Term Abortions

On December 15, 2021, the Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (NT) received assent from the administrator of Australia’s Northern Territory, having been passed by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory on November 30, 2021. It became the Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (NT) (the Act).

The Act amends the Termination of Pregnancy Law Reform Act 2017 (NT), which had aimed to increase access to safe terminations of pregnancy. Under the 2017 legislation, a “suitably qualified medical practitioner” can perform a termination on a woman who is not more than 14 weeks pregnant, and authorized people may supply and administer a termination drug at the direction of the medical practitioner. For terminations where a women was between 14 and 23 weeks pregnant, a medical practitioner was required to consult another doctor who had assessed the woman, and both needed to consider that the termination was appropriate in the circumstances.

According to the explanatory statement for the 2021 bill, the Act “removes the need for assessment by a second doctor for terminations up to 24 weeks”; “increases the gestational upper limit from 23 to 24 weeks”; and “allows terminations after 24 weeks gestation following consultation between two medical practitioners.” It also “removes additional credentialing requirements for medical practitioners who perform termination of pregnancy over their existing credentialing” and “makes a consequential amendment to the Criminal Code.”

The legislation, which was passed unanimously, “will benefit women in regional and remote communities who often travel hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres for medical treatment.” The Northern Territory health minister explained that 1% of abortions in the territory occur after 20 weeks, when serious or lethal anomaly was found. She said “[t]his highlights the incredibly small number of terminations that occur in the later stages, they are rare, complex situations,” and “[i]t is a difficult debate for some people and can cause discomfort. I cannot overemphasise the importance of this for Territory women.” Furthermore, in terms of allowing access to abortions after 24 weeks, she stated: “There is very little difference how a doctor clinically handles discovering a foetal anomaly at 20 weeks to one found at 30 weeks. What is different is that we do not currently have the framework to allow these clinical professionals to do their jobs.”

The changes also align the Northern Territory legislation with “the vast majority of Australian jurisdictions,” according to the minister.

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Australia: Northern Territory Abortion Law Amended to Improve Access to Late-Term Abortions
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Chicago citation style:

Australia: Northern Territory Abortion Law Amended to Improve Access to Late-Term Abortions. 2021. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2021-12-29/australia-northern-territory-abortion-law-amended-to-improve-access-to-late-term-abortions/.

APA citation style:

(2021) Australia: Northern Territory Abortion Law Amended to Improve Access to Late-Term Abortions. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2021-12-29/australia-northern-territory-abortion-law-amended-to-improve-access-to-late-term-abortions/.

MLA citation style:

Australia: Northern Territory Abortion Law Amended to Improve Access to Late-Term Abortions. 2021. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2021-12-29/australia-northern-territory-abortion-law-amended-to-improve-access-to-late-term-abortions/>.

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