Medicare reforms are key to creating a fairer national abortion system, say advocates | Abortion


MSI Australia, formerly known as Marie Stopes, says Medicare item numbers for abortions and pregnancy counseling and specific funding for reproductive health are needed to create a fairer national abortion system .

State and federal women’s security ministers are meeting on Friday for the first time since the election of the Albanian government. A 10-year plan to end violence against women and children, gender equity issues and the need for a specific plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women should be discussed.

Equitable access to abortion is also on the agenda. Abortion has become a contested topic following the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down reproductive rights protections – and criticism of Australia’s inconsistent system is mounting.

MSI Australia’s head of policy, Bonney Corbin, said gestation limits for rare late-term abortions, which vary from state to state, needed to be replaced with a more individual approach.

Currently, each state and territory has different rules and limits and access can be a “zip code lottery” depending on where you live, advocates say.

Corbin said the goal of universal and equitable access to abortion was enshrined in the National Women’s Health Strategy. Achieving this would require a range of measures and this should be the responsibility of health ministers, not women’s ministers, she said. “Universal access requires funding provided to states and territories that can be quarantined for access to abortion, as opposed to general health funding.”

Elements of the Medicare Benefits Program (MBS) should be put in place for telehealth for medical abortions, another for surgical abortions, and a range of support services from pregnancy counseling to specific care for people culturally and linguistically diverse, migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples and refugees. Torres Strait Islanders and LGBTQ+ people.

“For some people, it’s an easy, fast and stimulating choice. For other people, there may be other aspects of grief and loss that they need to deal with – everyone will do it differently,” Corbin said.

Part of the solution would be to look at who can use these MBS numbers, she said, with nurses and Indigenous community health workers better able to oversee parts of the process.

Then there were issues with ensuring the procedure was safe from “reproductive coercion” – when an abusive partner was involved.

A national task force was needed to work out issues including cost, potential complications and personal needs such as in-country childbirth, Corbin said.

The federal government funds a range of abortion services, but it is up to the states to decide how that funding is allocated. Many public hospitals, doctors and other health services do not offer the procedure.

Pregnancy limits have always been controversial. They vary from 16 to 24 weeks between states and territories, after which different approvals or processes are required.

“It’s so rare that someone needs a late abortion,” Corbin said. “It’s really up to a patient to argue with their doctor – having a limit puts judgment on someone’s decision.”

A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed the government was committed to boosting access to abortion, but echoed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who earlier said this week that it was up to the states and territories.

“Equitable access to pregnancy termination services is a key measure of success in improving the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls, as outlined in the National Strategy for Women’s Health 2020-2030”, said the spokesperson.

“While laws relating to the termination of pregnancy are the responsibility of the State and Territory, including the conditions for performing a termination of pregnancy, the Labor Government is committed to ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health care and to address the underlying factors that limit real choice.”

On Wednesday, Albanese was asked on radio station 3AW if he would consider requiring public hospitals to make abortion available as part of their funding agreement.

“No,” Albanese said.

“It’s a matter of state…states control hospitals. In this country, we don’t control the healthcare system – the states control the healthcare system. They deal with these issues, and we’re lucky that in Australia we don’t have the kind of divisive debate that’s happened in the United States, that we’ve seen unfold.

He described the United States Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade as “very unfortunate”.

At Friday’s meeting in Adelaide, women’s ministers will also discuss the appointment of a new Family and Domestic Violence Commissioner. Catherine Fitzpatrick, who was appointed by the former coalition government just weeks before the May election, had the appointment revoked by the new Minister of Social Services, Amanda Rishworth.

The Department of Social Services will officially announce the appointment of a new commissioner to “play a key role in elevating women’s safety as a national priority and giving a strong voice to victim-survivors.”

Anti-Poverty Week leader Toni Wren called on the meeting to also take action to “urgently tackle poverty and homelessness”.

Anti-Poverty Week research found that 95% of the poorest single-parent families are headed by women.

“We know that the majority of these single mothers have left abusive partners, and their current path is in lifelong poverty,” she said.

  • The National Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Advice Service is 1800RESPECT or 1800 737 732.

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