Medical abortion in Australia: What are the clinical and legal risks? Is medical abortion over-regulated?

Anne Helena O'Rourke, Suzanne Belton, Ea Mulligan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the clinical and legal risks of early medical abortion. After providing an overview of the history of mifepristone in Australia, the evidence concerning the efficacy and safety of medical abortion is discussed. It is argued that the negligible medical risks associated with mifepristone do not justify the restrictive regulatory measures imposed on medical practitioners. The article then turns to the legal risks and considers whether medical practitioners are vulnerable to prosecution under existing State and Territory laws. It is argued that providing early medical abortion services in a number of jurisdictions is legally ambiguous, potentially posing a threat of prosecution to medical practitioners. The need for law reform is evident by the fact that in four jurisdictions it remains in the criminal statutes, creating legal uncertainty for both medical practitioners and women. The article concludes that there is sufficient evidence to allow some "demedicalisation" of medical abortion. However, this is only possible if the legal status of abortion in State and Territory laws is addressed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-238
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Law and Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

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