Response to an Australian woman convicted for attempting to terminate her pregnancy

Jenny Ejlak, President of Reproductive Choice Australia responds to the case of a woman in New South Wales, Australia, who was recently convicted of attempting to terminate her own pregnancy. This entry was originally posted as a Facebook post.

Firstly it is important to recognise we only know what has been reported in the media and the courts and none of us know the full extent of this woman’s circumstances. Our comments below are based solely on information that has been made public.

Failures in the healthcare system in NSW

As far as we can tell this woman was simply turned away from health services when she should have been referred onto counselling, family violence services, a social worker or at least pre-natal care services. If she was not, this demonstrates that the NSW health service system has gaps and vulnerable women are suffering as a result.

Anyone seeking termination of pregnancy that far into the second trimester will be experiencing significant and complex life circumstances which need to be addressed by a multi-disciplinary health and social services team, she should never have been left to fend for herself.

If the woman herself didn’t want the pregnancy it is most likely she would have tried to terminate in the first trimester – the reporting makes it sound like she was only trying to terminate at her partner’s behest.

The fact that she seemed to be coerced by her boyfriend so late into the pregnancy is not an abortion issue, it’s a controlling, abusive relationship issue and should have been dealt with as such.

The law in NSW

This remains an extremely rare case of post 20wk termination and the fact that abortion providers would not provide a service at this stage demonstrates that the medical community already exercises judgement on later-term gestation pregnancies and no additional laws are needed to further restrict their practice.

The current criminal law in NSW is outdated and inappropriate for dealing with situations such as this. The woman in this case has clearly been through significant trauma and is possibly still under the influence of a controlling partner. The last thing she needs on top of that is a criminal record. She needs assistance and support not punitive laws.

Buying abortion pills from overseas

An unknown number of women in Australia access abortifacient medication online from overseas destinations, without knowing whether the pills they receive are genuine, often without advice on how to take them and without having had appropriate medical tests such as an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy is below the recommended gestation for medical abortion, and is not ectopic.

Women do so because they cannot access affordable, timely services in their local community, however they fall foul of the law in most states and territories and risk prosecution as this woman has.

Governments need to improve health and social support to women experiencing problem pregnancy, not prosecute them with punitive nineteenth century laws.

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