Tasmanian women forced interstate for affordable abortion access
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Tasmanian women forced interstate for affordable abortion access

Issues/Women , Stories/384 , Issues/Healthcare
Hobart TAS, Australia
23rd Nov 2018
Tasmanian women forced interstate for affordable abortion access
Only one abortion clinic remains in the state of Tasmania, and it is a private clinic which costs $2500 per procedure.

In November of 2017, Tasmania's only dedicated pregnancy termination clinic closed its doors. Despite abortion being decriminalised in 2013, the current Liberal state government has done little to aid the women of Tasmania in need of surgical terminations.

It's estimated that around 75 Tasmanian women have had to travel interstate this year to access surgical termination services. Doctors advise women to avoid unnecessary travel and strenuous activities post-operation, yet the government's closure of the clinic forces women  interstate for the procedure, rather than making it available through the public health system in their home state. The only way now to access a surgical termination in Tasmania is at a private gynaecological clinic in Hobart, which costs a hefty $2500. Aside from the unaffordability of the procedure,  women outside the urban centre of the state are still forced to travel long distances to access it.

The Tasmanian law allows terminations at up to sixteen weeks with only the woman's consent, and after sixteen weeks, with the additional approval of two doctors. In 2013, when the Reproductive Health Bill was passed in Tasmania, the Apple Isle joined the ACT and Victoria in removing all reference to the medical procedure in criminal laws.

To put it into context, in NSW where abortion has yet to be decriminalised, a pregnancy termination in a private clinic costs around $750 with $400 of that covered by Medicare, leaving women $350 out of pocket. To travel to Sydney from Tasmania, depending on your location, the season or time of year, can cost up to $600 return. Then, there's accommodation - at least three nights - to allow for recuperation before flying home. Don't forget meals and travel costs to and from the clinic. They won't allow you to drive post-operation, so someone will have to be there for you. 

Apart from the physical toll a surgical termination can have on a woman's body, the need to travel interstate also places her outside the sphere of her emotional support network. The Tasmanian government obliges to foot the bill for "patient travel assistance" but there are still out-of-pocket expenses for partners, friends or family wishing to travel with the patient for support. Another major factor in travelling interstate is time spent away from home. Additional leave from work and the costs associated are just another blow for Tasmanian women who are seeking to terminate a pregnancy. 

When Tasmania's dedicated abortion clinic closed at the end of 2017, the Liberal Government confirmed their opposition to abortion in the lead up to the March elections of this year. They definitely ruled out funding the procedure in public hospitals.

When questioned whether the religious views of Health Minister Michael Ferguson impacted the party's stance, Premier Will Hodgman simply said "no". But Ferguson's religious ideologies continue to be called into question. Prior to being appointed Tasmania's Health Minister in 2014, Michael Ferguson was a vocal opponent of the abortion pill, and stood with church leaders to protest Tasmania's Reproductive Health Bill that passed in 2013. 

Recently, under mounting pressure, the Liberals announced there would soon be a new, private clinic providing "low-cost" abortions in operation by October 2018. October came and went, and this promise failed to eventuate. An ambiguous statement released by the Department of Premier and Cabinet by the Secretary of the Department of Health Michael Pervan stated that they would initially provide fortnightly clinics and the cost of the procedure would be $475. There was no mention of a Medicare rebate. 

The statement contained advice for women to talk to their GPs. While there are many doctors around the state who oppose abortion, those who refuse to advise on the procedure are legally obliged to give women a list of willing practitioners. Halfway through November an update was provided, which stated the delay was now due to stalled negotiations between the private surgical termination provider and the property owner. There's no contingency plan, and for many women, the clock is ticking.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, Sarah*, a Tasmanian health care professional illustrates the need for more support of women's services. "I see young women regularly who just don't know where to turn. The information needed for termination in this state is so hard to access. Nobody in the public system is forthcoming and they can't afford to terminate privately," she says.

She also speaks from personal experience. "I'm lucky, as I gave birth to my children in a private hospital. But I very quickly - and accidentally - fell pregnant just weeks after I'd given birth to my second child. Physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, I could not have that baby. My doctor prescribed the abortion pill - the one they wanted to ban here. I can't imagine how my health and family would have suffered if I was in a position where I had no other choice than to have that third child. It's funny— Tassie is seen as such a culturally and creatively diverse state where anything goes, but not many people who live on the mainland realise how backwards we are in terms of women's needs."

Abortion in Tasmania isn't illegal in principle, but the government's manoeuvring of the situation on the ground has made accessing it prohibitively difficult and expensive.  When many women suffer at the expense of archaic beliefs, it begs the question— where does the line separating religion and politics begin and end? The Tasmanian government needs to do more to ensure its women have access to safe terminations and aren't banished interstate when they require one. We can't prove God exists, but we can prove the need for a state government to equally uphold the rights of the women it was elected to serve. 

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