• The study shows that 34 per cent reported they found it very difficult to pay for the abortion and 11 per cent had an overnight stay due to distance. (SBS)
A new study reveals that Aussie women’s abortion choices are being restricted by high cost, long distance and lack of knowledge.
By
Shannon McKeogh

30 Jan 2017 - 3:10 PM  UPDATED 30 Jan 2017 - 3:32 PM

As Trump controversially signed the abortion gag rule last week, a new Australian study revealed that Aussie women’s abortion choices are being restricted by high cost, long distance and lack of knowledge.

The research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health this month, found cent that 65 per cent of the females who visited a Dr Marie clinic in Australia for reproductive health care services actually underwent a surgical abortion. This statistic equates to over 1,510 females, aged 16-plus. 

The study shows that 34 per cent of patients said they found it very difficult to pay for the abortion and 11 per cent had an overnight stay due to distance.

Most concerning was the finding that Indigenous women were three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to need an abortion past nine weeks.

The study also noted that beyond 12 weeks, costs associated with surgical abortions rise considerably.  

The study shows that 34 per cent of patients said they found it very difficult to pay for the abortion and 11 per cent had an overnight stay due to distance.

Authors of the study argue that increased health policy, access and increased rebates could help women who are socially, geographically and economically disadvantaged to access abortion, especially the medical abortion.

Medical abortion, requiring a combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, has only been on the marketplace since 2013, while the procedure has been available in the UK for 25 years.

 The study found one-in-10 women were unaware of this option which can be taken at home after consultation and investigative tests.

Director of the Judith Lumley Centre at La Trobe University, Professor Angela Taft, tells SBS information takes time to trickle down to the females who may need to receive it the most.

“You aren’t allowed to advertise these types of pharmaceuticals directly to customers by law,” says Professor Taft.

“In similar high income countries, the ratio [of usage] has gradually changed and the majority choose medication abortion.”

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Out-of-pocket costs may limit choice

The average out-of-pocket cost for a surgical or medical abortion under 12 weeks is $500. This cost does not include travel, accommodation, childcare or loss of wages.

Over 68 per cent of women in the study obtained financial assistance from at least one source to help pay for the abortion.

Dr Phillip Goldstone, Group Medical Director for Marie Strope International Australia believes the public health care system provides poorly for women seeking abortions.

“When a woman falls pregnant and decides to continue her pregnancy the public health care system will provide everything that she needs, if she chooses not to continue her pregnancy she’s really left to sort that out herself and that’s generally through the private health system,” Dr Goldstone tells SBS.

“Theoretically medical abortions could be delivered for $6, if you had a patient on a healthcare card and the service was bulk-billed.”

And those costs are significant. Rebates are only available for those with a Medicare card. For international student and non-permanent Australian residents the costs will be doubled.

Dr Goldstone says costs could be reduced by making medical abortions more readily available accessed through GPs would reduce costs, as they would require less resources to conduct the medical process.

“Theoretically medical abortions could be delivered for $6, if you had a patient on a healthcare card and the service was bulk-billed.”

Taking away location as a barrier for abortion services

Currently, women who don’t live near capital or regional centres can struggle to get the access and information they need for abortion services. Around 11 per cent of women needed an overnight stay.

Dr Goldstone says this could change if there were more qualified, suitable medical abortion providers.

“Women should be able to find a GP in their local area and to provide this service without the cost such as travelling to another town or another city.”

He says Indigenous women, especially those living in the Northern Territory who are not near a hospital, are extremely disadvantaged. This is because medical abortion services need to be delivered from a hospital.

This law is currently under review which Dr Goldstone hopes will be changed. “[The clinic] does have women travelling from the Northern Territory to Queensland to access services because they find it too difficult in their own state.”

The researchers also hope that telemedicine will improve access. Telemedicine is still in its early days but allows women to access abortion services online through video consultation. Women will still need to access a GP, have tests such as an ultrasound and be within one hour of a hospital.

After a video consultation, the patient will receive the medication within one business day by courier and can take it at home. Follow-up tests and monitoring are still required, however travelling less could reduce the barriers women face to accessing medical care.

“I think on the upside that women have demonstrated their strength all over the world with the women’s marches."

Things could change for the better, or worse

The government is currently reviewing the option of providing Medicare rebates for abortions, but given the current political climate and Trump’s anti-abortion stance making waves worldwide, the future is unclear.

Professor Taft hopes Trump’s anti-abortion campaign will not impact the outcome of the medical rebate review.

“I am worried that if Trump succeeds in abolishing any rebate for abortion in the US, there will be pressure on our government here from religious lobbyists both within and outside government.

“I think on the upside that women have demonstrated their strength all over the world with the women’s marches. The government are currently reviewing Medicare rebates so this is a very important issue. Without it, the costs double.”

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