‘A Historic Day for Women': Passage of the Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021
The Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021 recently passed the South Australian Parliament.
This major Act highlights the role and work of the independent South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) based at the Adelaide University Law School. The Act draws closely on SALRI’s comprehensive October 2019 report written by the University of Adelaide’s Professor John Williams, Dr David Plater, Anita Brunacci, Sarah Kapadia and Dr Melissa Oxlad.
The South Australian Attorney-General, the Hon Vickie Chapman MP, described the Act as
‘A historic day for women and I think it is a historic day for the transformation of our management of this particular area of law. We have brought it into the 21st century’.The Hon Vickie Chapman MP
The Minister for Health, the Hon Stephen Wade MLC, noted the passage of the Act ‘half a century after this state led the nation in abortion reform, has decriminalised what is a health service and removed key barriers to access to services for women in South Australia.’
On 28 February 2019, SALRI was asked by the Attorney-General to inquire into and report in relation to the topic of abortion, with the aim of modernising the law in South Australia and adopting best practice reforms. SALRI was asked to undertake proper investigation and provide recommendations for reform based on best clinical practice in this area and taking guidance from other jurisdictions in considering the most suitable way to achieve proper reform of abortion laws in South Australia.
This proved a complex and sensitive reference. Professor John Williams, SALRI Director, explained:
‘The topic of abortion plainly raises significant legal, health, ethical, policy and practical questions. Often these questions are answered by recourse to deep personal beliefs. It was unsurprising that abortion and its regulation in South Australian law elicited a wide range of responses and submissions to SALRI’s review. SALRI acknowledged the sincerity and conviction of the various differing views expressed to it and that there was no simple, universal or straightforward position. In making its recommendations for moving from an outdated criminal law to a health focus, SALRI carefully considered the Terms of Reference that framed the review, the origins and operations of the South Australian law dating back to 1969, interstate law, similar reviews undertaken in comparable jurisdictions, available research, its many consultation responses and submissions as well as contemporary medical practice and procedures.’
SALRI’s reference attracted intense interest and input reflecting a wide range of views. Dr David Plater, SALRI Deputy Director, said:
‘SALRI received 2885 online survey responses and about 340 further submissions ranging from a single sentence to hundreds of pages. SALRI also conducted five roundtable discussions with interested parties and organisations in Adelaide, and further meetings were conducted in Whyalla, Port Augusta, Ceduna and Port Lincoln, as well as individual and small group meetings with metropolitan, rural and interstate medical and health practitioners and experts in this area. It is notable that virtually all parties provided their input to SALRI in a constructive and considered manner. SALRI’s final Report carefully considered and drew on our extensive consultation and multidisciplinary research and covered over 550 pages and made a total of 66 recommendations for changes to law and practice.’
SALRI’s role and work were widely acknowledged in the parliamentary debate and by the Law Society of South Australia and other interested parties.
The Attorney-General commented: ‘I just want to commend some extraordinary people… We also have Professor John Williams and the team from the South Australian Law Reform Institute—months and months of work from them. We appreciate that compendium that they presented to us.’
The Hon Tammy Franks MLC highlighted SALRI’s role. ‘I commend SALRI for their fine work. The extraordinary efforts that went into that work I think ensured that the debate in this place and in the other was able to be based on fact and not on stigma… Today, we bring our abortion laws into the 21st century, some 21 years into this 21st century.
The Hon Michelle Lensink MLC, the Minister for Human Services, commended SALRI’s ‘exhaustively thorough’ Report and elaborated:
‘The South Australian Law Reform Institute undertook a comprehensive review of existing laws and other models, and consulted with a very large range of stakeholders to come up with a report that was incredibly informative and which has formed the backdrop of the debate. The Deputy Premier and Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman, referred the matter to SALRI and took the concept of removing terminations from our criminal laws into a piece of legislation that has received the consensus of members in both houses.’
The Law Society of South Australia also commended SALRI’s ‘comprehensive report’ and welcomed the passage of the Act to decriminalise abortion on South Australia. The Law Society considered that the original Bill ‘should ideally have been passed without amendment, but acknowledges the reality of the parliamentary process and the compromise required to make positive advancements in law reform’.
Professor Williams expressed his appreciation to both the Report’s authors and the valuable background research of the Law Reform class. Sarah Kapadia, a recent law graduate and member of the Law Reform class, described the experience of working on this reference and being a co-author as a highlight.
Professor Williams noted his particular appreciation for the many insightful comments and submissions SALRI received and thanked all who took part in this important reference.