How to: Reproductive rights

Introduction

The law governing reproductive rights is contained in the CONTRACEPTION, STERILISATION AND ABORTION ACT 1977, and also in some sections of the CRIMES ACT 1961.

Abortion

Unless one of the other specified grounds apply (see below), a woman or girl is not entitled to an abortion unless two consultants certify that the pregnancy poses a serious danger to the woman or girl's physical or mental health.

In assessing whether this serious danger exists, the consultants can take into account:

  • whether the woman or girl is near the beginning or the end of the usual child-bearing years
  • whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that the pregnancy is the result of sexual violation

An abortion can also be authorised if two consultants certify:

  • that there is a substantial risk that the child would be seriously mentally or physically handicapped
  • that the pregnancy is a result of incest
  • that, in the case of a girl under 20, the pregnancy is the result of criminal sexual intercourse by a person who had the care and protection of the girl
  • that the woman or girl is severely subnormal

A pregnant woman has no legal obligation to obtain the father's consent before obtaining an abortion. Similarly, a father has no legal right either to force a woman to have an abortion nor to prevent her from having one. Because of the doctor/patient confidentiality relationship a doctor is not entitled to notify the father of a woman's pregnancy without her consent.

Parents have no right to require their daughter to have an abortion nor to prevent her having one, provided the daughter is capable of understanding the nature and consequences of her decision.

Contraception

A doctor is entitled to prescribe contraception for a girl under 16 years and has no obligation to inform her parents. However, the doctor may choose to get parental consent first.

A parent, guardian or medical practitioner may administer contraceptives to any mentally impaired female.

Sterilisation

In general, no sterilisation operation can be performed without the patient's informed consent. Parents cannot consent to their child being sterilised if there is no reason other than his or her age why the child cannot consent or refuse consent on his or her own behalf.

Within one month of performing any sterilisation, the medical practitioner must provide a report to the Director-General of Health stating:

  • the reasons for the procedure
  • the patient's age, race, sex, marital status and number of children (if any)
  • the duration of the stay in hospital
  • whether the procedure was carried out after the patient gave birth

This report must not give the patient's name or address.

It is against the law for sterilisation to be a condition of any loan, employment opportunity or benefit.

Cautionary notes
  • While these are the legal rights of women in relation to reproductive control, it must be remembered that any decision made will have permanent consequences, including emotional consequences. It is therefore strongly recommended that you consider counselling before entering into any decision.
  • Avenues exist to make complaints about any treatment or procedure that may not have been of a reasonable standard: see How to complain about a doctor and How to be aware of and enforce your rights as a patient.


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