Criminal pregnancy


Abortion is a crime against society.

This is not philosophical or religious rambling. This is the law in NSW. In 2012. In a secular country. Where women have rights.

Under the Crimes Act NSW, terminating a pregnancy can technically land the woman and her doctor in jail for up to 10 years. This is irrespective of how far along the pregnancy is, be it four weeks, or 32.

Division 12, section 83 states:

“Whosoever unlawfully administers to any woman, whether with child or not, any drug or noxious thing, or unlawfully uses any instrument or other means, with intent in any such case to procure her miscarriage, shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.”

And yet, abortions are still accessible, with more than 130,000 performed in Australia each year.

In ACT, there are no laws governing abortion. In Victoria, abortions are only illegal after 24 weeks, following legislation to decriminalise the procedure in 2008. But in NSW they are illegal from day one. The result is that every single woman has to go in to a clinic with a readymade defence against the law. And that defence is called necessity.

As examples, in the criminal system you can use necessity to get out of speeding fines (if you need to get home to help a grandparent having a heart attack) or trespassing on a building site (because you heard screaming). In NSW, a woman must prove that she needs to have an abortion for the sake of her mental, physical or social wellbeing.

Simply not wanting a child is not enough. Women must be asked why they need an abortion and their responses must be recorded. If you cannot prove that you need an abortion, it is illegal for the doctor to go ahead.

Largely the system isn’t too impeding for women seeking abortions since most people have no problem citing career, financial hardship or immaturity as a need. Abortions may be freely available, this is not a huge social problem, but it is unnecessary and shows a lack of political courage for any party in NSW to step up and rectify an outdated law.

Feminists fought hard for women’s bodies to be recognised as their own – they choose how to dress it and who to sleep with. And yet we still don’t have the freedom to choose whether we want a child. Abortion is still not recognised as a choice, we still need to justify our decisions on the basis of need.

As an example, if someone plants an acorn in your backyard that will turn into a huge oak tree (that will cost you thousands in fertiliser to care for it properly, will affect your plumbing systems, and ruin your favourite social activity of backyard cricket) , you do not have to justify why you do not ‘need’ that massive oak tree  once it has been planted. If you don’t want it, you can simply pick up the acorn and toss it aside. Why can’t we have the same freedom with our own bodies?

The NSW legislation needs to reflect that it is ok for a woman to simply not want a child. It is not a matter of need.

I cant imagine abortion ever being a simple decision. It is a fraught, complex, personal decision that should be made in consultation with a woman’s doctor and usually, her partner. But it should definitely not be a crime.

*In a future topic I will discuss the lack of men’s rights in reproductive law and as food for thought: in no jurisdiction is a woman required to tell her sexual partner of a pregnancy, or abortion.