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Common questions answered about abortion in Australia

After a leaked draft of a United States Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the country's landmark 1973 Roe V Wade decision that legalised abortion, the fragility of reproductive rights has been thrown into sharp relief.
Around the world, advocates are calling for access to legal, timely and compassionate abortion care become essential healthcare.
South Australia was the last jurisdiction to decriminalise abortion when the procedure was removed from the state's criminal code early last year.
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Each state and territory has different rules around how many weeks of pregnancy you can get an abortion at. (iStock)
But the legal status of abortion is only one step to making the procedure accessible and affordable so it still remains a postcode lottery and difficult to obtain for many people.
With different rules on abortion in each state and territory, reproductive health advocacy groups say there is still some confusion about things such as how much an abortion costs, when and where you can get access to abortion services, and what types of abortion services are available in Australia.

Is an abortion covered my Medicare?

CEO of non-for-profit Children by Choice Daile Kelleher says that some abortions can be covered by Medicare.
"If you go through the public health care system, you can get a fully publicly funded abortion," she told 9News.
"Doesn't always happen though."
Terminations through the public system are not available in all parts of the country so many patients, regardless of their income, still have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to terminate a pregnancy with a private provider.
South Australia and the Northern Territory have abortion provision in the public system while some vulnerable people in Victoria and Tasmania may access a termination at no cost.
However, even in the public system, people who don't have access to Medicare, such as temporary visa holders, may be forced to pay out of pocket in these jurisdictions.

Medical versus surgical abortions

A medical abortion involves taking medication mifepristone or RU486 together with misoprostol to end and expel a pregnancy.
It can only be done in the first nine weeks of a pregnancy in Australia.
The majority of abortions in Australia take place in the first nine weeks of a pregnancy.
A surgical abortion is often a day procedure.

What is 'conscientious objection'?

Conscientious objection to an abortion is where a medical practitioner can refuse to provide information about or carry out an abortion due to a personal belief against it.
Protesters rally in Cadman Plaza during an abortion rights demonstration in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 14. .
Protesters rally in Cadman Plaza during an abortion rights demonstration in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 14. . (AP)
"But they do have to balance their rights as a healthcare professional with the rights of the person to receive health care, and they need to make sure that they refer that person on to an appropriate provider that will give them the health care that they need," Kelleher said.

Abortion legislation

Kelleher says there has been some confusion around what abortion legislation actually says or means.
"We've found that we've had a staggered decriminalisation across the states and territories in Australia over a number of years," she said.
"So, it just has been confusing because legislation doesn't always match practice."
Here is an outline across each state and territory.

New South Wales

NSW took abortion out of its criminal legislation in 2019.
The new legislation allows terminations up to 22 weeks gestation, after which two medical practitioners must consent for the rare abortions that take place at this stage of pregnancy.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich is congratulated by Liberal MP Felicity Wilson after the passing of the bill to decriminalise abortion  on September 26, 2019 in Sydney.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich is congratulated by Liberal MP Felicity Wilson after the passing of the bill to decriminalise abortion on September 26, 2019 in Sydney. (Getty)

Queensland

Abortion was decriminalised in Queensland in 2018.
Abortion is available on request in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy with the approval of two doctors required for any terminations after that time.
Doctors who conscientiously object must refer the woman seeking an abortion to a doctor that will provide one.

Northern Territory

In December 2021 abortion was decriminalised in the Northern Territory and medical terminations were legalised.
The change made RU486 legal for up to nine weeks gestation and allowed terminations outside of hospitals in private clinics.
After 24 weeks a woman needs the approval of two doctors to be able to receive an abortion.

Western Australia

Abortions are permitted on request with a referral from a doctor up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
This is subject to counselling by a medical practitioner other than the one performing the abortion, or when the woman may face serious personal, family or social consequences if an abortion is not performed, when the pregnancy causes serious danger to the woman's mental health, and when the life or physical or mental health of the woman is endangered.
After 20 weeks of pregnancy abortions are only allowed to be performed if the fetus is likely to be born with severe medical problems, and this must be confirmed by two independently appointed doctors.
Signs lay in front of fencing during a rally for for abortion rights in front of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, Saturday, May 14, 2022, during protests across the country. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades) (AP)
If a woman is seeking an abortion in WA and is under the age of 16, then one of her parents must be notified, except when permission has been given by the Children's Court, or if the woman doesn't live with her parents.

South Australia

Abortion can be carried out upon request up to 22 weeks and six days of pregnancy.
After that additional medical consultation is required.
Although South Australia last year passed laws to decriminalise abortion, the regulations for that legislation to take effect are still under consideration.
Once the new laws are operational, patients will no longer have to seek permission from two doctors to have an abortion and will be able to access RU486 via telehealth like most other pregnant people across the country.

Australian Capital Territory

Abortion can be accessed up to 16 weeks through a GP, with medical abortions only able to be performed up to eight weeks.
In certain rare circumstances an abortion can be performed later in the pregnancy by Canberra Hospital.
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Tasmania

A woman can legally get an abortion in Tasmania at the 16th week of pregnancy.
The service may also be available after that time frame after an assessment by two doctors.

Victoria

Abortion was decriminalised in Victoria in 2008.
Patients can seek an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation after which doctors must approve.
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