Abortion Access in Queensland About to Get Even Harder

  • January 14, 2017
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Abortion access in Queensland is about to get even harder

Queensland has the most restrictive abortion legislation in Australia, and the situation is about to get worse.

Marie Stopes International will cease surgical terminations in two of its north Queensland clinics, making abortions even harder to access for a remote population already heavily disadvantaged by geography and socio-economy

The news, exclusive to Daily Life, is a blow to women in a state where most abortions are still unlawful according to its 1899 criminal code.

Despite approaching the state government for funding, the Townsville and Rockhampton Dr Marie clinics have incurred massive financial losses and will be forced to drastically scale back from February.

Women in Queensland are resorting to knitting needles to induce miscarriage, says Children by Choice.

Chief executive of Marie Stopes, Alexis Apostolellis, said “that the decision to cease the surgical termination procedure at the clinics was our very last option.”

Lack of access to clinics is a major barrier Queensland women face when it comes to accessing safe and legal abortion services, in a state where the law still considers abortion to be illegal except in cases where the mother’s health is deemed critically at risk.

Queensland women, should they attempt to seek an abortion:

Remote and rural access are two of the sunshine state’s biggest impediments when it comes to abortion. Women in the state have just ten abortion clinics to service their needs, according to Children by Choice. Seven of those are in the south east corner, around Brisbane and the Gold Coast. The remaining three are on the coast, with Dr Marie clinics in Rockhampton and Townsville flying doctors in from Brisbane for just one day a week to perform surgical terminations. For women who live north of Gympie and west of Brisbane, there is a grand total of zero abortion clinics in close proximity.

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters gathered outside Brisbane’s Parliament House in May. Two of those clinics, in Rockhampton and Townsville, will cease surgical terminations from February. The move comes after Dr Marie made massive financial losses in its attempt to support women who otherwise have no access to abortions. Homeless women, women who are experiencing family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are further disadvantaged when it comes to abortion access. Current abortion laws most impact the state’s neediest.

Women march in Washington D.C. in 2004, in defence of abortion rights. 12 years on, the issue is still debated in Queensland. For those who do not live near or cannot afford the services of an abortion clinic, some GPs are able to administer medication abortions until nine weeks’ gestation. However, Children by Choice points out there is no publicly available list (if any) of how many GP clinics offer the service, or where they are based.

Standardised Data Collection:

While there are no standardised data collection around unplanned pregnancy and abortions in Australia, it is generally accepted that somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 abortions take place each year in Queensland. Last year, just 295 terminations were performed in Queensland’s public hospitals, according to Queensland Health. It is not known how many hospitals this figure is spread across, but experts including those at Children by Choice believe very few. The majority of abortions are carried out by private clinics.

The medical community remains divided over abortion. Children by Choice is aware of one non-Catholic public hospital that refused to take a patient who had been referred for an abortion by a GP after a sexual assault. “The GP was disgusted and confused and trying to support the patient,” says Kate Marsh, of Children by Choice. “Good people are getting the run around, wasting time and resources and energy.”

Children By Choice:

Children by Choice – 70 per cent of which is funded by the Queensland government, “ironically”, says Marsh – financially supports 300 women a year to access terminations. A small percentage of those have to travel interstate to do so. Because state laws around gestational limits vary, it is cheaper in some cases to travel to Sydney or Victoria than undergo the procedure in Queensland. Clinic terminations at 19 weeks can cost as much as $4000. Those at nine weeks are about $500, with the price rising steeply the later in pregnancy the abortion is performed.

Children by Choice is contacted by girls aged 12 to women in their 50s. Abortion can impact anybody and no contraception is 100 per cent effective. Australia has a relatively low uptake of the most effective long-acting reversible contraceptives compared to other countries and so has more unwanted pregnancies.

As is, the law is not protecting women from unsafe abortions and at-home attempts to terminate. Unsafe abortion was one of the leading causes of death and disability amongst Australian women of reproductive age until laws changed in 1970s, the charity says.