Chapter 7: Abortion in Australia: law, policy, and the advancement of reproductive rights
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This chapter charts the Australian laws and policies which, over the past 20 years, have led to a significant advancement in reproductive rights, while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go before Australian women achieve full reproductive justice. The chapter begins by observing the wave of decriminalization of abortion that has swept across Australia. While noting the importance of decriminalization for reasons that include the value of treating abortion as a health matter rather than a matter for the criminal law, the chapter also notes that decriminalization is not a magic bullet; for example, decriminalization does not necessarily eradicate stigma. The chapter then proceeds to analyze other legal reforms, beyond decriminalization, that have contributed to the advancement of reproductive rights in Australia. These include the imposition in most Australian jurisdictions of an obligation to refer on medical practitioners with a conscientious objection to abortion; the enactment of safe access zone legislation in all Australian jurisdictions; and the gradual embracing of medical abortion coupled with the increased role of telehealth in facilitating access. The final Part of the chapter contains a discussion of some of the remaining hurdles that must be overcome in order for the full realization of women’s reproductive rights to be achieved in Australia. The chapter concludes by recommending that in countries where abortion remains a crime, it is important to bear in mind that while advocating for decriminalization is an important first step, it is the beginning and not the end of the journey towards the full realization of reproductive rights.

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