Australia needs to stop restricting rights to reproductive health care

The Science Party NSW and the Science Party Women group celebrate International Women's Day!

We support equal opportunity in all fields and better access to reproductive health care for girls and women.

Reproductive health care must include universal access to effective contraception and termination of pregnancy, and here in Australia, we can do better. Laws around termination are different in every state and territory, ranging from full decriminalisation in the ACT (although restrictions on providers limit access to mifepristone, the RU-486 pill) to heavy restrictions in the NT. In NSW, the letter of the law is simultaneously restrictive and vague: termination is a crime unless it's "lawful", i.e. approved by a doctor.

Expert opinion

The NT, Tasmania, WA and Victoria have legislation that specifically restricts termination after 14, 16, 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, respectively.

The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) recommends against an arbitrary legal limit at 24 weeks or any other time, as each case is unique.

Data from South Australia showed that 2% of all terminations were performed later than 20 weeks' pregnancy, and half of those were due to foetal abnormalities.

Preventing late-term termination

While termination performed in a hospital at any stage of pregnancy is safer than childbirth, the procedure is safest earlier in pregnancy. We support decriminalisation, better access to mifepristone (the RU-486 pill, for non-surgical termination up to 9 weeks' pregnancy) and ensuring termination of pregnancy is available through Medicare.

An analysis of 131 American women who had a termination at later than 13 weeks' pregnancy found that one third were "in denial", one in five found it difficult to get to a clinic, and one in five did not know that pregnancy is more likely at certain times during the menstrual cycle.

Better—not worse—access to reproductive healthcare is the key to reducing the incidence of later-term terminations. This includes frank education in secondary schools and better communication about the full suite of long-lasting, reversible contraception methods that are available (Australian uptake of the intrauterine device, for example, is very low compared to other countries).

Ultimately, termination of pregnancy is a personal and medical decision to be made between a patient and their doctor. The government should allow the freedom to make this choice as it is no more a legal matter than any other medical procedure.

 


 

Update 8/3/17: This blog post was updated to note the gestational periods that attract special legislation in various states and territories.