Issue 19
Monday, 24 October 2016
Charles Darwin University
Dr Suzanne Belton: “It’s efficient and … as safe as any medication”
Dr Suzanne Belton: “It’s efficient and … as safe as any medication”

Time to update abortion laws, says academic

By Patrick Nelson

A Charles Darwin University medical researcher says the Northern Territory has a rare opportunity to write some of the most progressive abortion laws in Australia if plans to reform the Medical Services Act are advanced in Parliament next year.

Associate Professor Suzanne Belton from the Research Centre for Health and Wellbeing said an amendment to decriminalise early medical abortion would allow Territory women greater control of their reproductive health.

“Women in the Territory face unnecessary health risks because of out-dated abortion laws, but this could change if the Act allowed for the use of oral medications, such as mifepristone (RU486) and misoprostol, without restriction to a hospital setting,” Dr Belton said.

“We remain the only jurisdiction in Australia where RU486 is prohibited, despite it having been legalised in Australia in 2006.

“It’s efficient, and as evidence in the UK, Scandinavia and parts of the United States has shown, it is as safe as any medication is.”

Dr Belton examined the clinical and legal risks of early medical abortion in a co-authored paper in the latest edition of the Journal of Law and Medicine.

“We argued that the negligible medical risks associated with mifepristone do not justify the restrictive regulatory measures imposed on medical practitioners.

“Here in the Territory we’ve got professional people who are qualified to dispense it, staff who are willing to do it, and women who want it.”

Dr Belton said provisions relating to abortion were also contained in the Criminal Code Act 1983, which made the law overly complex and confusing in the NT.

“The problem is not clinical or medical, but rather legal. The law as it stands is a threat to medical practitioners and disabuses women of their reproductive health rights.

“Younger women will grow increasingly impatient with restrictive abortion laws that are relics of an era in which women’s self-determination was curtailed.

“New best-practice legislation also would provide legal certainty to health practitioners, safe access zones for patients and health staff, explicit advice to conscientious objectors to refer patients and treat termination of pregnancy like other medical events.”