Matt Canavan made the claim in an interview on Sky News Australia
Matt Canavan made the claim in an interview on Sky News Australia.

Nationals senator wrong on abortion laws

Kate Atkinson July 12, 2022

Australia is isolated as just one of only six countries that allow “late term abortions”.


False. At least 11 countries permit abortions on request at 20 weeks and several more allow the procedure later in pregnancy for various social, economic or health reasons.

Following the recent US Supreme Court ruling which overturned Roe v Wade, Nationals senator Matt Canavan has claimed that Australia is one of just six countries that allow “late term abortions”.

This claim is false. An analysis of abortion laws throughout the world shows that at least 11 countries permit abortion later in pregnancy on request and many more allow the procedure to be performed for various socioeconomic and health reasons.

Senator Canavan made the claim in a June 28 interview with Sky News.

“We’re very isolated now, it’s China, North Korea, Vietnam, Canada, the Netherlands and ourselves that maintain this permission for late term abortions. Most European countries, South American countries, most Asian countries do not permit this,” he said (video mark 3min 19sec).

Senator Canavan repeated the claim in a tweet (archived here) posted on the same day. On this occasion, he said it was one in seven with the inclusion of Singapore. He also made a similar assertion in 2018 when speaking against Queensland’s Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

Senator Canavan’s office declined to provide a source for his claim when contacted by AAP FactCheck.

Experts told AAP FactCheck that the phrase “late term abortion” is not a medical term and is often used by those against abortion to describe the procedure in the second (approximately week 13 to 27) and third (28 weeks until birth) trimesters.

Dr Erica Millar, a senior research fellow at La Trobe University, said it can refer to abortion after 12 weeks, after 20 weeks or “post-viability”, which is generally after 24 weeks.

While Senator Canavan did not specify his definition, it appears based on a 2014 report published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an organisation that opposes abortion.

The report compared gestational limits set out in abortion laws and determined that only seven countries permit “elective abortion” at 20 weeks or later.

The countries were listed as Canada, China, the Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Senator Canavan’s comments reflect the findings of this study but are incorrect because there are currently more than seven countries that permit abortions on request later in pregnancy.

AAP FactCheck identified at least 11 countries that allow abortion on request at 20 weeks gestation or later.

The laws in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Canada do not indicate a gestational limit for abortion.

Demonstrators hold placards at a rally in support of abortion rights
 Demonstrators hold placards at a rally in support of abortion rights in Melbourne. 

The Netherlands, Singapore and Colombia permit abortion on request up to 24 weeks, Iceland up to 22 weeks and New Zealand up to 20 weeks.

Despite the overturning of Roe v Wade, at the time of writing abortion continues to be legal in several US states. The laws of New York, Nevada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania permit abortion on request up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, while in Alaska, Colorado, the District of Colombia, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont abortion currently remains legal at any stage throughout a pregnancy.

Abortion laws in Australia vary between states and territories but most jurisdictions allow it on request past 20 weeks. NSW, Queensland and South Australia permit abortion for any reason up to 22 weeks, while Victoria and the Northern Territory allow up to 24 weeks. The law in the ACT does not set a gestational limit, although there are no abortion providers operating in the territory that offer abortions after 20 weeks.

Dr Prudence Flowers, an expert on abortion and a senior lecturer in humanities at Flinders University, described Senator Canavan’s claim as “inaccurate” on “both on the specific number he cites but more importantly on the implication that the rest of the world rejects these procedures”.

“In allowing abortion after 20 weeks, the laws in Qld and most Australian jurisdictions are closely in keeping with the approach in Canada and Great Britain, the countries with which we are most similar in terms of legal and political traditions,” Dr Flowers said in an email

Senator Canavan did not specify in his claim that he was referring to abortions on request. Experts told AAP FactCheck more than 20 countries with gestational limit before 20 weeks still allow abortions to be performed later in pregnancy under certain circumstances.

“Most countries permit abortion on maternal health grounds throughout a pregnancy; a huge number also permit abortion on grounds of severe foetal anomaly,” Dr Millar said.

“For example, according to the UK Abortion Act, abortion is not lawfully a pregnant person’s choice at any stage of pregnancy in England, Wales and Scotland. Most abortions occur before 24 weeks … but the NHS states they can be performed after this time ‘if the mother’s life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability’.”

Dr Flowers agreed.

“More than 20 countries with gestational age cut-offs lower than 20 weeks still have legal exceptions that allow abortion after that point for a range of reasons,” she said. “In practice, despite the letter of the law and the defined gestational limits, this still functions like ‘abortion on request’ (particularly in Western Europe).”

Both France and Spain (article 14) have gestational limits of 14 weeks, but allow abortion after this point if there’s a risk to the life of the pregnant person or fetal abnormalities.

In Japan abortion is permitted up to 22 weeks if a continued pregnancy or birth will endanger the health of the mother or cause economic hardship. Argentinan law permits abortion on request up to 14 weeks gestation, but is legal after 14 weeks in cases of rape or if the pregnant person’s health is endangered.

A similar claim to Senator Canavan’s was made by former US president Donald Trump in 2017 and US Senator Lindsey Graham in May this year.

The Verdict

The claim that Australia is isolated as one of only six countries to allow “late term abortions” is false.  At least 11 countries permit abortions on request after 20 weeks gestation, while many others permit abortions after this point for various social, economic or health reasons.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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