Western Australia’s health minister has acknowledged the state’s abortion laws are outdated but stopped short of guaranteeing any immediate changes.
WA’s laws are among the most restrictive in the nation and still fall under the state’s criminal code.
Women who seek an abortion after 20 weeks must face an “ethics panel” consisting of six medical practitioners, two of whom must agree that either the mother or foetus has a severe medical condition that justifies the procedure.
This has led to women being forced to travel interstate to have the procedure carried out safely.
The state Labor government last year legislated safe access zones for women seeking abortions, bringing WA into line with every other state and territory.
But advocates have urged WA to go a step further and modernise its abortion laws which date back to 1998.
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson on Tuesday would not commit to legislative changes but admitted the current situation was far from ideal.
“There were a number of concessions made along the way to pass that legislation … that has provided hurdles for women accessing safe abortions,” she told reporters.
“The ethics panel … was established around 20 years ago. It’s probably not a model that’s fit for purpose now and we’ll look at that. But there are a range of issues that are not just legislative.
“Cost is an issue. Women do fly interstate to access abortions past about 15 weeks. There’s two private providers and often their hours are limited.”
Ms Sanderson labelled the US Supreme Court decision to overturn federal abortion rights as “devastating”, saying it underscored the importance of protecting women’s rights.
She said WA “went backwards to some degree” when the former Liberal government privatised the Midland health campus and handed its ownership to Catholic healthcare provider St John of God, which does not provide abortions.
“I’m well aware of the limitations. I’m also well aware of the environment that we’re operating in now,” she said.
“We’re working within government to ensure that we have equitable access but I’m not going to make a running commentary on what that may be.”