Heather Douglas (Professor of Law, University of Queensland) and Caroline de Costa (Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, James Cook University) investigate a recent case of a woman being charged with illegally aborting her own pregnancy and question what was gained by this absurd process.
This week Australian media reported the case of a Sydney woman charged and convicted under the NSW Crimes Act for taking medication with the intent to procure an abortion at 28 weeks of pregnancy. The medication was misoprostol, widely used in obstetric practice for initiating labour, treating heavy bleeding and, with the drug mifepristone (RU486), for medical abortion. According to the case report, after taking the drug the woman became unwell and presented to hospital, where foetal distress was diagnosed, a caesarean section was performed and a live-born child was delivered.
It is rare for a woman to seek an abortion at this late stage in pregnancy. Less than 2% of all abortions are performed at or after 20 weeks, and most of these before 24 weeks.