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Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2018 Oct;58(5):594-597. doi: 10.1111/ajo.12817. Epub 2018 Apr 22.

Abortion law reform: Why ethical intractability and maternal morbidity are grounds for decriminalisation.

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Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Intensive Care, Centre for Children's Health Ethics and Law, Children's Health Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
The Myuma Group, Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia.


In this paper, we present two grounds for arguing that abortion should be decriminalised. First, we consider the implications of the fact that the long-standing ethical debate concerning the morality of abortion has to date proven intractable. We maintain that because the philosophical literature has failed to demonstrate conclusively that views either for or against abortion's moral acceptability are false, the matter remains at a stalemate in terms of rational debate, contributing to the ongoing absence of political and popular consensus about the issue in our society. In these circumstances, we argue, the law should adopt a minimalist position by not imposing criminal sanctions for abortion. Second, we present evidence, often neglected in the moral debates about abortion, that the risks of carrying a fetus to term and of delivery are substantial for a woman. Most laws recognise that, should her life be endangered by her pregnancy, a woman's right to life shall prevail. However, the impacts of carrying a fetus to term and delivery on a woman are not restricted to the risks to her life, but extend to significant permanent changes to her body, and include risks of injury that are not negligible. We argue that a woman should not be compelled to take these risks by laws prohibiting abortion, when no conclusive argument exists against the morality of abortion. We also address, albeit briefly, the issue of late-term abortion.


abortion law reform; maternal morbidity and mortality; physical and psychological risks of pregnancy and delivery; termination of pregnancy


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