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The Federal Budget must invest in abortion care

Sigrid Firth Abortion, Advocacy, Equity and access, Media

The Government has announced investments of $353.9 million over the next 4 years for women’s health as part of the 2021-22 Budget. It is not yet clear if, how and where this investment will fund equity and access in abortion care.

This investment is linked to the five priority areas of the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020–2030 and the improvement of long term health outcomes for women and girls. Priority area 1 is maternal, sexual and reproductive health.

The women’s health announcement includes investment in maternal health, yet investment in sexual and reproductive health remains unclear. Key measures of success for the National Women’s Health Strategy includes equitable access to abortion care.

In Australia abortion is a common women’s health procedure; almost 1 in 4 women in Australia have had an abortion. Abortion is recognised as Category 1 essential healthcare.

The announcement of $88.4 million per year over 4 years for Australia’s 13 million women equates to less than $10 per woman per year.

As a non-profit healthcare provider, Marie Stopes Australia uses income from full fee-paying patients and philanthropic donations to provide bursaries to patients experiencing financial hardship. In the past two years, Marie Stopes Australia has funded in excess of $850,000 worth of contraception and abortion services for patients experiencing financial hardship.

Marie Stopes Australia relies upon regular Choice Fund donations, where every dollar goes towards healthcare for pregnant people experiencing hardship who cannot otherwise afford their choice of abortion care. In the pandemic the number of regular donors, philanthropists and the size of their donations have dramatically reduced meaning that it its becoming increasingly difficult for Maries Stopes Australia to guarantee subsidised access to this essential service and remain financially viable.

Last year medial abortion access was temporarily increased with short term Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) item numbers for telehealth care. Despite calls from healthcare professionals to make these MBS item numbers permanent, it is not clear if they will ever be reinstated.

Further clarity is required as to understand how the Government will address and measure all commitments made in the National Women’s Health Strategy.

Quotes from Jamal Hakim, Managing Director

“In the past two years we funded in excess of $850,000 worth of contraception and abortion care services for patients experiencing financial hardship. It is not financially sustainable for non-profit health providers to be covering budget shortfalls in healthcare access.”

“Patients experiencing financial hardship rely upon regular donations to the Choice Fund, where every dollar goes towards providing contraception and abortion care. In the pandemic there are far less donors and philanthropists willing to donate towards sexual and reproductive healthcare.”

 “Last year temporary MBS item numbers increased access to medical abortion and provided greater equity in essential healthcare. It is not clear if MBS numbers for specialised sexual and reproductive telehealth care will be reinstated.”

“Abortion access in Australia is a postcode lottery. Federal leadership is required to ensure equitable abortion access across all metropolitan, regional and remote areas.”

 “This is the first year that abortion has been decriminalised across Australia. This Federal Budget is an opportunity to invest in equitable access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.”

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For further information or to interview Jamal Hakim contact, Marie Stopes Australia, 0428 396 391.

Marie Stopes Australia is a national not for profit provider of sexual and reproductive health services including permanent and long-acting reversible contraception and abortion care. For more information on our clinic network visit mariestopes.org.au.