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Article Australia: Western Australia Abortion Law Reforms Come into Force

On March 27, 2024, the changes enacted in Western Australia’s Abortion Legislation Reform Act 2023 (WA) came into effect. The legislation, which was passed in September 2023, removed an abortion offense from the state’s criminal code and made various legislative changes to “remove unnecessary barriers to accessing abortion health care in Western Australia.” The act

repeals all provisions related to abortion within the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1911 (WA) and creates a new framework relating to abortion under the Public Health Act 2016 (WA). Consequential amendments have also been made to the Criminal Code, Children’s Court Act, Coroner’s Act, Freedom of Information Act 1992 and the Guardianship and Administration Act 1990.

The new Part 12C of the Public Health Act 2016 (WA) specifies who can perform an abortion and under what circumstances.

The Department of Health explains that the amended laws have

      • reduced the number of registered health practitioners required to be involved in most abortion care from 2 to 1.
      • abolished the Ministerial Panel approval requirement for late abortions.
      • abolished the mandatory counselling provision.
      • abolished the requirement for Ministerial approval for a health service to be approved for the performance of late abortions.
      • increased the gestational limit at which an abortion may be performed on request from less than 20 to 23 weeks to better reflect current clinical practice.
      • removed abortion from the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (Criminal Code)[;] however, it will remain an offence for an ‘unqualified person’ to perform or assist with an abortion.
      • enabled prescribing practitioners (nurse practitioners and endorsed midwives) to prescribe the medical abortion medicine (MS-2 Step) within their scope of practice and training.

Abortions after 23 weeks are permitted when performed by medical practitioners. The primary practitioner “must consider whether performing the abortion is appropriate in all circumstances,” taking into account all relevant medical circumstances; current and future physical, psychosocial, and social circumstances; and commonly accepted professional medical standards and guidelines. The primary practitioner must also consult with at least one other medical practitioner and obtain informed consent from the patient “in line with existing standards of care and professional obligations.”

The new laws allow health practitioners to conscientiously object to performing or assisting in an abortion. A practitioner who conscientiously objects to performing an abortion must:

      • immediately disclose their conscientious objection to the pregnant patient concerning their request; and
      • refer the patient to a health practitioner or health service that they reasonably believe can provide the abortion service sought; or
      • provide the pregnant patient with information approved by the Chief Health Officer for this purpose (available 27 March 2024). This option does not apply in an emergency.

According to the state government, the changes in the act bring Western Australia’s abortion law into line with other Australian jurisdictions. The Human Rights Law Centre stated upon the passage of the legislation that “[a]bortion by doctors has now been decriminalised and replaced by health-focused laws in each state and territory of Australia.”

Kelly Buchanan, Law Library of Congress
April 9, 2024

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Buchanan, Kelly. Australia: Western Australia Abortion Law Reforms Come into Force. 2024. Web Page.

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