A federal court has said a pregnant asylum-seeker cannot be forced to have an abortion in Papua New Guinea, rather than Australia. The woman claims to have been raped in an offshore detention center on Nauru.
In his ruling late on Friday, Justice Mordecai Bromberg said the African asylum-seeker, who has sought an abortion in Australia, could not be forced to have the operation in Papua New Guinea because it was both unsafe and illegal.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had ordered that the pregnant African woman, identified in court documents only as S99, be sent to Papua New Guinea for the procedure in line with the government's hardline policy on immigration, under which refugees trying to reach the country by boat are told they will never be settled in Australia.
Instead, they are sent for offshore processing to camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Under the policy, such refugees can only be brought to Australia under "exceptional circumstances" - and Dutton has said the woman's case is not exceptional enough.
In a 150-page judgment, Bromberg said that the "abortion in Papua New Guinea made available to the applicant is attended by safety and lawfulness risks that a reasonable person in the minister's position would have avoided."
Papua New Guinea allows abortion only in case of danger to a woman's life. The woman has claimed she was raped while she was in Nauru, where abortion is also illegal except to save the life of the woman or to preserve her physical or mental health.
Bromberg also rejected Dutton's argument that he had no duty of care toward the woman, saying she had been, and still was, reliant on the minister for all her basic needs.
He said the woman had serious neurological, physiological and psychological conditions that required expert care.
Policy under fire
A spokesman for Dutton said the court ruling was "under consideration," and suggested that the government might appeal.
The camps on Nauru and Manus Island have come under widespread criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups, amid reports of harsh conditions and systemic child abuse.
Papua New Guinea last month ordered the Manus Island camp to close after the country's Supreme Court ruled it illegal, while on Nauru, two people have set themselves on fire this month to protest against conditions there.
A 23-year-old Iranian man died of the injuries he sustained, and a young Somali woman remains in critical condition in an Australian hospital.