Health worker Sally Stevenson says abortion services in regional NSW need improvement. (ABC News: Justin Huntsdale)
Women seeking abortions in regional NSW are being forced to travel long distances, pay large sums or self-terminate their pregnancies due to poor access to publicly-funded services, according to caseworkers.
- Regional and rural access to abortion services is “extremely poor”, one expert says
- Health workers say domestic violence victims are among those most affected by the lack of services
- Bulk-billed medical terminations can cost up to $500
Earlier this month Queensland decriminalised the termination of a pregnancy, making NSW the only state in Australia where abortion remains a criminal act, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Pregnancies can be terminated in NSW legally if a woman’s mental and physical health is in danger.
“Regional and rural access is extremely poor and that’s the bigger picture,” Illawarra Women’s Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson said.
“Anecdotally, at the worst end of the spectrum women in these communities are self-terminating, which is unacceptable and shocking.”
In 1977, Kate* paid $11 to have her urine tested at a chemist in Sydney before discovering she was 13 weeks’ pregnant.
“I wasn’t capable of even considering raising a child and I didn’t have the support of my boyfriend at the time,” she said.
Kate, now 57, said after reading a pamphlet she visited a doctor who helped her organise a surgical termination at a dedicated clinic in the southern Sydney suburb of Arncliffe.
“It was well organised, they were kind,” she said.
“I was supported by a doctor, I was supported by the centre and I was supported by the health system in that I didn’t have to pay.”
Almost 40 years after Kate’s termination, Emma* — from Nowra on the state’s south coast — fell pregnant to a casual partner in 2013 after the condom they were using broke.
“There wasn’t a question for me,” she said.
“I was quite confident that this wasn’t the right time for me, it wasn’t the person I wanted to have a child with.”
Now a 30-year-old nurse, Emma said it took her four weeks, a three-hour round trip to Thirroul, south of Sydney, and $270 to have an abortion.
“I was tired, I was emotional and then trying to navigate all of this in a timely fashion,” she said.
At-risk women most affected
Tracy Lumb runs the Women’s Health Centre in the Shoalhaven region, which has the second-highest domestic violence rate in the state.
“We see a lot of times that women who are victims of domestic violence continue to fall pregnant because that’s another form of manipulation and abuse, tying the woman to that perpetrator,” Ms Lumb said.
“We’re just birthing more babies into disadvantage.”
In the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions there are no public health services that provide surgical terminations and only two private providers.
A spokesperson for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District said public health facilities across the state do perform terminations, however they must adhere to the legislative framework and be approved by a general practitioner.
“As such there is no designated public service providing terminations of pregnancy,” the spokesperson said.
“Women can request a pregnancy termination from a treating medical practitioner, this includes in some NSW public hospitals.”
Bulk-billed medical terminations can be accessed through certain clinics and can cost up to $500.