Contemporary Laws to Regulate Pregnancy Terminations Fri 8 March 2013 Michelle O'Byrne Minister for Health Media Opportunity: The Minister for Health, Michelle O'Byrne, will be available for interview TODAY at 1pm, St John Street end of Civic Sqaure. A woman will no longer face the threat of criminal charges for having a pregnancy termination under revised laws released for public comment today. The Minister for Health, Michelle O'Byrne, said the proposed changes modernise the state's termination laws which are based on British law from the 1800's and bring Tasmania into line with Victoria and the ACT where health laws, not criminal laws, regulate access to the procedure. Ms O'Byrne said that pregnancy terminations are currently the only medical procedure criminalised and regulated under the Tasmanian Criminal Code. "It's time the law reflected community expectations and medical advances in the safety of the procedure and recognised that unplanned pregnancies will occur. "Under the proposed changes, a doctor can perform a termination procedure up to and including 24 weeks gestation as long as the woman has consented. "After 24 weeks, the obligation to obtain the approval of two doctors will remain "Doctors will face professional sanctions rather than criminal ones if they do not follow the framework set out in the legislation." Ms O'Byrne said that currently a doctor or woman terminating a pregnancy that is not 'legally justified' is guilty of a crime. "Women have to obtain certification from two doctors, including a specialist that continuing the pregnancy will be more detrimental to her health than a termination. "There is also a requirement that the woman be referred to counselling on 'other matters'. Both these elements need to be fulfilled no matter what stage of pregnancy the woman is at. "This poses significant barriers, especially for disadvantaged women with limited money to attend appointments and for those living in rural and remote areas where access to multiple medical professionals is difficult. "Delays occur while women struggle to fulfil the requirements, with some forced to travel interstate for a termination, incurring unnecessary cost, delays and anxiety." Ms O'Byrne said that while she understood the issue of pregnancy terminations was deeply emotive, the changes did not reopen the debate about their legality. "Parliament had that debate in 2001 when it changed the law and determined that the procedure is legal at any stage of a pregnancy when approved by two doctors. "It has become clear that the law is not working as intended and today we are seeking to update the law to reflect contemporary standards. "It will provide women and doctors with greater certainty about when a termination procedure can be legally performed and removes the barriers to services Tasmanian women currently face," Ms O'Byrne said. Ms O'Byrne said the existing requirement to obtain certification from two doctors would not change for pregnancy terminations after 24 weeks. "Clinical practice and experience in Victoria and Britain confirms 24 weeks as the most appropriate point at which to introduce additional legal requirements. Ms O'Byrne said that unplanned pregnancies were a part of life with research showing that just over half of all Australian women of reproductive age have experienced one - many were using at least one form of contraception at the time. "Community attitudes have also moved on and it is generally accepted that the majority of Australians support access to termination services. "This Bill seeks to get the balance right by recognising that women should no longer fear threats of criminal sanctions for making a personal and complex decision. "It enables women to take advice from their medical practitioners, just like any other medical procedure, within appropriate timeframes and with access to the support structures and services of their choice," Ms O'Byrne said. For more information on the Bill, accompanying Information Paper and related articles visit www.dhhs.tas.gov.au. Consultation on the Bill will close on the 22 March.