Medical experts call for an end to "abortion tourism"

MEDICAL experts have called for abortion laws to be standardised across Australia to stop "abortion tourism" and allow women to access the best medical care no matter where they live.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, two Queensland experts state abortion laws have fallen behind medical advancements. James Cook University professor Carole de Costa and University of Queensland professor Heather Douglas said the country's "patchwork" abortion laws were creating barriers for women.

"Medicare-funded diagnosis of foetal abnormality is now routinely offered to all pregnant Australian women - with the implication that a woman may choose to terminate the pregnancy if a serious abnormality is detected," they wrote.

"Abortion laws, however, have not kept pace with these developments."

In 2002, the Australian Capital Territory removed all criminal sanctions for abortion, in 2008 it was decriminalised in Victoria up to 24 weeks, and Tasmania followed suit in 2013 up to 16 weeks.

Professors de Costa and Douglas said although legislation in Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania and decriminalisation in Victoria and Tasmania covered foetal abnormalities, they were not specifically mentioned in Queensland or NSW laws.

"The result of these differences is extensive abortion 'tourism' from all Australian states to Victoria and overseas in the face of barriers to access to abortion."

They said rural and regional woman had the least access to medical care and were often subject to attacks from protesters.

"Where services are provided, the access of women to these services is often hindered by verbal and sometimes physical harassment outside clinics. Attempts to curtail protesters' activities have, to date, been unsuccessful, generally because of the protesters' implied rights to freedom of political communication," they wrote.

"In 2015, there is an urgent need for legislative uniformity across Australia so that the law is in step with modern medical practice, and so that women, regardless of where they live, have equal access to abortion services".