Decriminalization and Women’s Access to Abortion in Australia

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    18 Citations (Scopus)


    This article considers the relationship between the decriminalization of abortion and women’s access to abortion services. It focuses on the four Australian jurisdictions which are, with Canada, the only jurisdictions in the world where abortion has been removed from the criminal law. This paper draws on documentary evidence and an oral history project to give a “before and after” account of each jurisdiction. The paper assumes that the meaning and impact of decriminalization must be assessed in each local context. Understanding the conditions that shape access must incorporate analysis of the broader social, political and economic environment as well as the law. The article finds that decriminalization does not necessarily deliver any improvement in women’s access to abortion, at least in the short term. Further, it is not inconsistent with the neoliberal policy environment that characterizes the provision of abortion care in Australia, where most abortions are provided through the private sector at financial cost to women. If all women are to enjoy their human rights to full reproductive health care, the public health system must take responsibility for the adequate provision of abortion services; ongoing and vigilant activism is central if this is to be achieved.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)197-208
    Number of pages12
    JournalHealth and Human Rights Journal
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


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