Labor refuses to act on public hospital abortions 

A parliamentary inquiry into reproductive healthcare has concluded that access to abortion remains a “postcode lottery”. Yet the federal Labor government is refusing to make sure that public hospitals provide abortion services. 

Despite calls from medical practitioners for abortion to be made universally accessible, Health Minister Mark Butler has ruled out any return to Labor’s 2019 position, which promised to provide abortion services in all hospitals. 

“That was a policy at an election some time ago. It’s not our policy now”, Butler told a press conference in late June.

Abortion in Australia remains inaccessible and unaffordable. Sixty percent of abortions in NSW are surgical, yet according to the most recent data from NSW Health only 0.7 percent are performed in public hospitals. Decriminalisation over the last few decades has not resulted in free, widespread, easy to access services. Years on from decriminalisation in NSW, the two public hospitals that perform abortions continue to turn women away, including those seeking help for complications from medical (via pills) abortions. 

“It should be free and safe for everyone, no matter where you live”, Jess Scott Hayes told the Sydney Morning Herald in March. Jess had spent $700 and waited weeks in a state of limbo trying to find a clinic that would terminate her unwanted pregnancy.

Simplified access to medical abortions was one of the key recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry the Greens initiated after the overturning of the Roe vs Wade decision. This decision by the US Supreme Court, in June 2022, overturned abortion rights which had been enshrined since the 1970s. 

A second option is via abortion pills. The pills are cheaper, viable for pregnancies up to nine weeks and can be performed at home. Only 10 percent of GPs and pharmacists in Australia, however, are licensed to prescribe the pills. Abortion accessibility will improve somewhat from August 1 with the decision by the Therapeutic Goods Association to remove additional certification requirements needed for licensing. 

In the United Kingdom, the proportion of women opting for the abortion pill has increased to nearly 90 percent in the last decade. But the decision is often related to cost, rather than preference or health considerations.

Ultimately however, Australian Labor, governing federally and in all states except Tasmania, is responsible for the limited access to abortion. Surgical abortions should be freely available, both within and outside the nine-week period. 

Women should have the right to whatever treatment is preferable to them without financial or geographical barriers—barriers that could be alleviated immediately by the federal government. 

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