Tasmania Set To Vote On Public Health System Abortions

Five years after decriminalizing abortion, Tasmania is set to debate the issue again.

Since Tasmania's only dedicated abortion clinic shut down in January, the number of women travelling interstate for surgical abortions has increased fivefold.

But a move to give women in Tasmania access to the procedure in their home state is likely to be decided on Wednesday.

Labor leader Rebecca White will move a motion directing Health Minister Michael Ferguson to provide pregnancy terminations in public hospitals by July 1.

"We have an opportunity as a parliament to provide better access for Tasmanian women and that's why we'll be moving this motion for debate," White told parliament on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow will be a very interesting test of  the government, particularly the premier, as to whether or not he has listened to Tasmanian women who have been telling him clearly that the current situation is unacceptable."

The Opposition leader said as many as ten women a week are currently flying to Melbourne to undergo surgical abortions now that there are no operating abortion clinics in the state.

With the opposition's plans already backed by the Greens, the casting vote will likely fall to Speaker Sue Hickey who last month blindsided her Liberal colleagues when she voted with Labor and the Greens to make herself Speaker of the state's lower house.

The Liberals were re-elected in March with 13 House of Assembly seats, to Labor's 10 and the Greens two. Hickey's vote is therefore crucial to passing legislation when all Labor and Greens members vote together.

"That is our position that women in Tasmania should be able to access safe, affordable terminations in the public system," Greens leader Cassy O'Connor told reporters.

A Government spokeswoman said Labor’s motion was a political stunt, and the Australian Christian Lobby has urged parliamentarians to conduct public consultation before voting.

What Are Tasmania's Abortion Laws?

After the state's last dedicated abortion clinic in Hobart closed six months ago, abortion was a key election issue.

During the campaign, the Liberals ruled out funding surgical abortions through the state's health system, and have since offered financial assistance for women travelling to the mainland for the procedure.

Liberal Party Senator for Tasmania Eric Abetz spoke at an anti-abortion rally in Melbourne last year. Image: AAP

Abortion was decriminalized in Tasmania in 2013, but elective surgical and medical abortions remain unavailable through the state's public health system. While both methods are legal in Tasmania, abortions can now only be provided in the public system in cases of fetal abnormality or to save the life of a pregnant woman.

A woman seeking an elective surgical abortion, which can be provided up to 16 weeks gestation in Tasmania, must find a private gynecologist willing to perform the procedure and will pay a fee.

Labor's motion comes in the wake of historic abortion legislation including NSW's recent 'Safe Access Zone' bill and Ireland's repealing of the eighth amendment, which saw some of the strictest abortion laws in the world changed to prevent Irish women having to travel abroad for the procedure.