Making it legal: Abortion providers' knowledge and use of abortion law in New South Wales and Queensland

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Abstract

Objectives

To explore the knowledge of state abortion law of doctors providing abortion in New South Wales and Queensland, their attitudes towards this law, and their application of both knowledge and attitudes to their day-to-day practice of abortion.

Design and participants

Qualitative study using interviews of twenty-two medical practitioners agreeing to participate and identified as providing surgical and/or medical abortions in NSW or Queensland. Specific questions about practice as well as responses to ten common clinical scenarios formed the basis of each interview.

Main outcome measures

Familiarity of participants with abortion law of their state, documentation of views on legality and probable availability of abortion in each scenario provided.

Results

All participants were aware that abortion in their state is covered by criminal legislation, which they believe is out-of-date with current medical practice, in particular with regard to the diagnosis of serious fetal abnormality, and that there is limited case law to assist doctors in a defence to a charge of abortion. All were concerned about requirements to conform to state law when agreeing to provide abortion services to women, and about the possible constraints of these requirements on women's accessibility to abortion services.

Conclusions

Review and reform of abortion laws in Queensland and NSW, as has occurred in other states and territories, has the potential to bring the law into conformity with current medical practice and to clarify the legal position of doctors providing abortion services, thereby providing an opportunity to improve women's accessibility to these services.

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