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Abortion for Health Practitioners

What is the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019?

In New South Wales, the law on termination is governed by the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019, which amended the Crimes Act 1900 to repeal the provisions of that Act relating to termination of pregnancy (abortion) and to abolish the common law offences relating to abortion.

The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 ensures abortion is treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. The Act:

  • establishes a health centered approach for abortion
  • supports a woman’s right to health, including reproductive health and autonomy
  • provides clarity and safety for health practitioners providing abortions

What do the changes mean for health practitioners in NSW?

The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 allows a medical practitioner to undertake a termination on a woman who is not more than 22 weeks pregnant.

An abortion on a person who is more than 22 weeks pregnant may be performed by a specialist medical practitioner provided that the medical practitioner:

  • considers that, in all the circumstances, there are sufficient grounds for the termination to be performed, and
  • has consulted with another specialist medical practitioner who also considers that, in all the circumstances, there are sufficient grounds for the termination to be performed

Additionally, the specialist medical practitioner may consult with a multidisciplinary advisory group or hospital advisory committee as required.

An abortion on a person who is more than 22 weeks pregnant must, except in an emergency, be performed in certain public hospitals or approved facilities.

The Act also recognises that registered health practitioners such as a medical practitioner, nurse, midwife, pharmacist or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioner, or another registered health practitioner prescribed by the regulations, may assist in the performance of an abortion by a medical practitioner. This means that a pharmacist can assist a termination by dispensing medication prescribed by a medical practitioner.

What happens if a health practitioner has a conscientious objection to termination of pregnancy (abortion)?

Any registered health practitioner who is asked to advise about abortion, or perform, assist in or advise on an abortion, and who has a conscientious objection to abortion must inform the person who made the request that they have a conscientious objection to the performance of an abortion and in a timely fashion.

In addition, if a registered health practitioner is asked to perform a termination, or advise about the performance of a termination, the practitioner must, without delay:

  1. give information to the woman on how to locate or contact a medical practitioner whom they believe does not have a conscientious objection to the performance of the termination; or
  2. transfer the woman’s care to another registered health practitioner, or health service provider, who can provide the requested service and does not have a conscientious objection to the performance of the termination.

A medical practitioner who has a conscientious objection may meet the requirement on giving information to the woman by providing the woman with the details of a NSW Health supported information service such as the Pregnancy Choices Helpline.

This service is able to provide information about medical practitioners who do not have a conscientious objection to the performance of termination; as well as general information and support services for reproductive and sexual health.

Information can be downloaded and given to patients from this website. Health professionals can direct women to contact the Pregnancy Choices Helpline on 1800 008 463, for information on termination of pregnancy service providers.

Termination of pregnancy for the sole purpose of sex selection

Under the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019, termination of pregnancy for the sole purpose of sex selection must not be provided – unless not performing the termination will cause significant risk to the woman’s health or safety. In all cases, the woman’s physical and psychological wellbeing must be the medical practitioner’s priority.

Education and training

If you want to learn more about providing termination of pregnancy in NSW, explore Family Planning NSW’s resources.