Greens Propose Changes to ACT Abortion Laws - (Canberra Doctor, July 2018)

5 Sep 2018

Ms Caroline Le Couteur, an ACT Greens MLA, has put forward a private members bill to reform abortion law in the ACT. The Health (Improving Abortion Access) Amendment Bill 2018 is due to be debated by the ACT Legislative Assembly in September 2018.

In essence, the bill aims to make changes including:

  • Allowing nurse practitioners to supply and administer medication for medical terminations
  • Removing the requirement that medical terminations no longer need to be undertaken in an approved facility
  • Requiring practitioners (both medical practitioners and nurses) who conscientiously object to participating in a termination that is not an emergency situation, to inform the person requesting the termination of their refusal to participate.

The bill contains other changes and can be accessed at  http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/b/db_57801/default.asp

Background to the Bill

In 2002, the ACT Legislative Assembly removed the criminal offence of procuring an abortion including in relation medical practitioners who carried out or supplied drugs to carry out an abortion. However, the Health Act (1993) currently provides that both surgical and medical abortions in the ACT can only be carried out in an approved medical facility. The currently approved facilities are Canberra Hospital, John James Hospital, National Capital Private Hospital and Marie Stopes.

The Greens claim, in the explanatory statement to the bill that:

 “the situation in the ACT has not kept pace with advancements in how abortifacients are prescribed and administered in Australia . . . as at March 2018, in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Victoria and Tasmania, medical abortion services are available to terminate a pregnancy without the person having to attend a designated clinic.”

AMA (ACT) Position

On balance, the AMA (ACT) has formed a view that is favourable to most of the proposed bill. Improved access to medical terminations balanced, against patient safety considerations were a key discussion point. Also important was the limited expansion of the requirements for a practitioner to conscientiously object to participation.

Coincidentally, the issue of conscientious objection more generally is being dealt with at the present time by the Federal AMA. Federal Council is reviewing the current position statement.

The proposal to grant Nurse Practitioners the ability to supply and administer medication for the purpose of medical terminations was rejected on the basis that only medical practitioners should retain these rights.  In discussions the ACT Greens, they had made it clear that the nurse practitioner proposal is designed to prepare for, what they say, is the time that nurse practitioners are authorised to prescribe the relevant medication.

Have your say

If you have a view on these matters, AMA (ACT) encourages you to make it known to via email or other means. Please email any correspondence to execofficer@ama-act.com.au or call the office on 02 6270 5410. The explanatory statement for the bill can be accessed at: http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/es/db_57802/default.asp

 

ACT Greens Abortion Law Reform Proposals

  • New definitions that replace ‘abortion’ with ‘termination’ throughout.
  • The definitions section also defines the two classes of termination - medical being “the supply or administration of a termination drug” and surgical being “a surgical procedure or any other procedure or act … that causes a pregnancy to end prematurely”. Termination drug is in turn defined as “a drug or substance that causes a pregnancy to end prematurely”.
  • The requirement that only a doctor can carry out an abortion is removed and replaced by a provision that permits nurse practitioners to also supply or administer a termination drug.
  • The bill removes the general requirement that both medical and surgical terminations be undertaken in approved medical facilities.
  • The Minister must approve a medical facility if he/she is reasonably satisfied it is suitable
  • An authorised person (medical practitioner or nurse) who conscientiously objects to participating in a termination must inform the person requesting the termination of their refusal to participate.