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Strong majority of South Australians support decriminalisation of abortion

Photo: Strong majority of south australians support decriminalisation of abortion
More than three out of four of South Australians support decriminalisation of abortion and agree abortion should be regulated under health law, and nine out of ten support safe access to abortion services.

They’re amongst the findings of a survey conducted by Flinders University researchers, which asked 1012 adults about their attitudes to abortion.

Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the survey results showed no difference between men and women, and only small differences by age (older people and those living in Adelaide were slightly more likely than younger people and those living in regional SA to support decriminalisation).

Flinders University epidemiologist Dr Monica Cations says the results could help inform political considerations and legislative processes.
“South Australians, like all Australians surveyed since the 1970s support the view that abortion care is health care and should not be a crime. Health law, regulation and ethics provide a sound framework for regulating abortion care and ensuring that it is safe and accessible.

“The strong support for later abortions to be available, in the rare cases when they are needed, within the framework of health law and ethics is in line with the evidence – decision-making about abortion care is best left to the woman and her health care team ” Dr Cations says.

Key outcomes of the survey include:

More than three quarters of South Australians (79%) support decriminalisation of abortion and agree abortion should be regulated under health law.

Support for safe access zones is very high. Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents (88%) support safe access zones around abortion clinics to protect the privacy and dignity of patients and staff. Slightly more (92%) agreed that women should be protected from any form of harassment or threatening behaviour. Only 5% of people oppose safe access zones, and they are mostly those who oppose abortion in all circumstances. 

Few people knew that abortion is a crime in South Australia. Only 3 in 10 respondents (30%) were aware that abortion is currently a criminal offence in SA.

There is strong support for access to later abortion (i.e. after 20 weeks gestation), with only 7% finding in unacceptable in any circumstances. 63% support the availability of care for those who need later abortion ‘when the woman and her health care team decide it is necessary’. The remaining participants supported the availability of later abortion in certain circumstances, including when the woman’s health is at risk, when there is serious fetal abnormality and in cases of rape or domestic violence.

There is strong support for protecting conscientious objectors, and requiring appropriate referral, under existing general health law and regulation. More than eight out of every ten people thought that existing conscientious objection provisions in health law and regulation should continue to apply (51%) or be reduced (31%).  And 94% thought the existing responsibility under health professional codes of conduct for doctors and others to provide referral or information should continue to apply (58%) or be strengthened (36%). Only 6% thought that the obligation to refer should be removed.

How do these results compare with other Australian surveys? The Australian Election Study, conducted after the 2019 federal election, found that nearly three quarters of respondents (73%) agreed that women should be able to have an abortion readily when they want one, slightly higher than the level of approval in this study (65%). The SA sample was about as likely to disapprove of abortion in any circumstances (4.5% in SA compared to 5% nationally).


A survey of 1012 South Australian adults was conducted online by survey company Dynata, over a three week period from 1st to 21st May 2019, commissioned by a team of researchers led by Professor Judith Dwyer of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University.

Results were weighted for gender, age and residence to represent the general population of South Australians. Respondents were 50.4% female, 40.7% were aged over 55 years, and 30.9% lived in regional or remote areas.

The research report Majority support for access to abortion care including later abortion in South Australia has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12997


The authors are members of the South Australian Abortion Action Coalition. The research report was produced in their capacity as Flinders University academics, in accordance with research standards.


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