Teenagers under the age of 16 will be able to terminate pregnancies without a parent or guardian’s permission when a new abortion bill is put to the Western Australian parliament this week.
The state is the only Australian jurisdiction where a child must tell their parent or guardian that they intend to have an abortion, and give them an opportunity to be part of the decision-making process.
The bill first introduced to the Legislative Assembly in June by WA Health minister Amber-Jade Sanderson seeks to remove abortion offences from the criminal code and amend the Public Health Act.
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It acknowledges “the concept of the mature minor”, noting that parental notification can be inappropriate, impractical, and dangerous.
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However, it also maps out provisions for health care professionals if there is doubt about a child’s intelligence, understanding, and decision-making competence in regard to abortion.
“Medical practitioners are well versed in processes to determine the decision-making capacity of children,” it notes.
The bill will also remove mandatory counselling, which Sanderson called a barrier to women accessing safe and legal abortions, as well as the requirement for women seeking later-term abortions to have their cases reviewed by members of an ethics panel.
It seeks to ensure woman no longer need to travel across state borders to receive safe and legal abortion.
‘It is now time’
Before updating the state’s abortion laws, the bill will be put to a conscience vote. Sanderson said she hopes for a respectful debate, which The West Australian newspaper confirmed will take place in parliament this week.
“There are a number of members of the Labour caucus who don’t support this bill,” she said in a press conference last week.
Sanderson “respectfully” slammed abortion claims made in a petition facilitated by fellow Labour MP Kate Doust, and led by the Australian Christians, as a “misinformation campaign from the pro-life Christian lobby”.
“It is wrong to scare the community with those sorts of claims,” she said. “It’s exactly what we saw with the extreme right-wing in America.”
The bill aims to bring the state’s regulations in line with the rest of the country, which Western Australia has failed to keep pace with.
The state made “groundbreaking” changes in 1998 after two doctors faced criminal charges for conducting an abortion, and then-Labor MP Cheryl Davenport introduced a private member’s bill from opposition, but laws have not changed in the 25 years since.
“For many people, it was a stark reminder that abortion remained largely illegal in Western Australia,” Sanderson previously said.
Sanderson thanked Davenport, who was in the public gallery during the second reading of the bill, for her work on shepherding that bill through, before addressing her fellow Labour members.
“It is now time to further enshrine access to abortion in our state’s legislation,” she said.
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