In the wake of the Supreme Court in America overturning Roe v Wade, MSI Australia (formerly Marie Stopes Australia) has today released a state of play of the current laws in every state and territory in Australia.
While abortion has been partly decriminalised throughout the country, there are disparate regulations that influence different levels of access in each state and territory.
Resourcing also remains a major issue in Australia, with service provision often falling to non-profit and community health providers stepping up in lieu of government. These organisations are already under immense financial pressure following the coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian Choice Fund, a philanthropic fund from which every dollar goes towards people experiencing financial hardship and seeking abortion care, received a significant drop in the number of donations over the course of the pandemic.
A key part of filling abortion access gaps is understanding the legislative complications that makes abortion difficult to deliver.
MSI Australia Managing Director Jamal Hakim said it was time to reform laws and invest in universal access across Australia.
“Roe v Wade has been devastating for women and pregnant people in the United States, with some states moving quickly to criminalise abortion in order to create even more access issues,” he said.
“Thankfully in Australia, our abortion laws are relatively secure with no threats to wind back any legislation that protects women and pregnant people. We can’t take this for granted and must continue work to embed abortion care.
“Abortion access is still a postcode lottery in Australia. To end the postcode lottery we need to harmonise state and territory legislation alongside investing in universal abortion access and embed abortion care in the healthcare system.
“As the national provider of abortion care, our staff are acutely aware of identifying and navigating barriers of abortion access.
“We can work with the challenges like two doctor approvals and mandatory counselling referrals, and minimise the complications that makes for the client experience. We cannot however continue to subsidise the cost of over-regulation of what is a safe and common healthcare service.
“There are varied approaches to funding abortion care pathways at regional, state, territory and national levels.
“Universal abortion access would mean the Government subsidises the cost of abortion, for anyone in Australia, regardless of their postcode.
“Our Australian-focussed abortion access scorecard lays bare the state of play in each state and territory in the country. It demonstrates the differences and highlights the gaps.
“We can celebrate the wins - safe access zones are now legislated everywhere, meaning that our clients, their support people and staff can access clinics without fear of harassment or intimidation.
“Due to abortion laws progressing over the past five years, women and pregnant people can access abortion care without risk of criminalisation in almost every state, except WA.
“This month South Australian regulatory changes will mean that every person in Australia can legally access medical abortion via telehealth (teleabortion). Offering medical abortion at home is a safe and private abortion option, which for some will reduce costs, including childcare and travel time."
Head of Policy Bonney Corbin said it was important to map out where we have progressed reproductive rights and where there is still much work to do.
“We need at the least a helicopter view of the complexities and contradictions of abortion laws across Australia," she said.
“Resources like the Australian Abortion Scorecard can assist in unpacking the quagmire of abortion inequity.
“We deserve to have an understanding of the laws that govern our bodies and our lives
“Unlike the US, we have bipartisan leadership that commits to abortion equity this decade.
“Five years ago the National Women’s Health Strategy listed ‘equitable access to pregnancy termination services’ as a key measure of success, with a vision for universal access to abortion in Australia by 2030.
“It is time for State and Territory Governments to come to the table and mend Australia’s patchwork of abortion access.
“We have a long way to go. To improve abortion care in Australia, we should remove gestational limits from legislation and to consider how nurses, midwives and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare workers have a role to play in abortion access.
“It is up to the health and community care experts, including the medical colleges and community controlled health services, to decide if, how and when abortion care is provided.
"Instead of abortion access being governed by outdated laws, abortion care could be evidence based, clinically and culturally safe."
View the Australian Abortion Access Scorecard here. View a summary of State and Territory abortion laws here. Donate to the Choice Fund to support people experiencing financial hardship or other barriers to healthcare here.
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MSI 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.