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Government action needed after Newcastle abortion clinic closure

Posted on 27th August 2021
Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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Government action needed after Newcastle abortion clinic closure

A local health lawyer and women’s health advocate says the closure of a non-government abortion clinic in Newcastle at the end of this month means the NSW Government must urgently provide funding or other measures to allow women to access local abortion services.

Catherine Henry said the closure of the Marie Stopes Australia clinic at Broadmeadow will make it much harder and considerably more expensive for local women to access their right to safe abortions.

Marie Stopes Australia is closing its four regional clinics – in Newcastle and in three regional Queensland cities – due to costs.

Marie Stopes has been the largest provider of abortion services in the Hunter region and Ms Henry said its closure means that most women wanting an abortion will have to go to Sydney.

She said travelling to Sydney is problematic due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Even in a non-COVID environment – having to fund travel and accommodation costs to have an abortion in Sydney is additional stress that a woman in this situation does not need,” Ms Henry said.

“Those costs are on top of the cost of the procedure which is around $500,” she said.

Abortion is the most performed therapeutic procedure in Australia with one third to one quarter of Australian women likely to have one during their lifetime. And surveys consistently show that more than 75% of Australians believe that abortion should be freely available.

“We spent decades trying to get abortion out of the Crimes Act and recognised as a health issue, not a criminal issue.”

“But with abortion decriminalised in NSW for almost two years we need to ensure equitable access to services for women across the state”. 

Ms Henry said the current NSW Upper House Inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW is not including this important health issue. Reproductive and sexual health issues aren’t in the Inquiry’s terms of reference.

“Given the statistics and contemporary attitudes to abortion, I find it quite disturbing that access to abortion services is not being considered.”

There are two types of abortions. Medical abortions are available during the first eight or nine weeks of pregnancy and generally done by the woman at home under the advice of a GP. More women have a surgical abortion which is mostly performed up to 14 weeks gestation by doctors with procedural skills. 

Ms Henry said the difficulties in accessing surgical abortion means more women will have to have a medical abortion in regional areas. For this to happen, GPs will need to be trained and upskilled.

“At present, a lot of abortions are being done by telehealth and this is not desirable.”

“Work is being done to develop referral pathways to John Hunter Hospital but a public hospital environment is not always the ideal environment.”

Catherine Henry is the principal of Hunter-based regional health law firm, Catherine Henry Lawyers, and the Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW spokesperson on regional health issues.

Media information: Craig Eardley on 0437477493. Catherine is available for interview.

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