ACT women crossing border for medical termination

Caroline Le Couteur
Caroline Le Couteur. Image: ACT Greens

The ACT Greens are tabling legislation to improve access to medical abortion in the territory, a move welcomed by the Guild’s ACT branch

While abortion has been legal in the ACT since 2002, current legislation requires that they be performed in an “approved facility,” which is currently limited to the Marie Stopes clinic and the Canberra Hospital.

However Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur, who is set to introduce new legislation this week, says that limiting medical termination to these facilities raises issues around discretion and practicality.

In 2016, new laws were brought into effect to stop pro-life protesters from intimidating or filming women who were attempting to access the Marie Stopes clinic in Civic.

Three men later faced court over the issue after they continued to attend the area – without most of the props they had previously used, such as religious symbols and a box containing a model foetus – and engaged in “silent prayer”. A magistrate dismissed the charges against the men earlier this month.

The Canberra Times reports that Ms Le Couteur has learned women were crossing the ACT/NSW border to access mifepristone and misoprostol (RU486), at a cost of around $250 – compared to $500 for a medical or surgical termination at Marie Stopes.

In NSW, QLD, WA and Tasmania, women can access medical abortion services to terminate a pregnancy.

“It’s not acceptable that Canberra women are forced to travel interstate to access medical abortions,” Ms Le Couteur says.

“No matter where a person lives, they should be able to exercise their reproductive health rights.

“We welcome contributions from both the ALP and the Liberal Party on this important public health issue, and hope that they too will back women’s rights in the Territory in voting for this Bill.”

The Greens said in a statement that, “Medical abortion provides a safe, accessible and private means of terminating an early pregnancy with medication.

“Medical abortions are prescribed in other states and territories by licenced medical professionals, including GPs and nurses. Women can have a professional consultation by phone without a need to visit a clinic.”

According to the Times, the new legislation will allow pharmacists and other health professionals the right to conscientious objection, “unless it was a life or death situation”.

Simon Blacker, president of the Pharmacy Guild ACT Branch, told the AJP that “Any change in legislation that allows female patients greater choice and flexibility for their own choice is a good thing”.

“It would be great to see the ACT fall into line with other laws and regulations as I understand them,” he says.

“It’s a sensitive issue and it takes courage for someone to present a prescription like that. So it should be something community pharmacy is happy to help with.”

Mr Blacker said that while it’s currently rare that RU486 is presented on prescription, this may change in the future, so it was important for pharmacists to consider how they would manage stocking and dispensing the drug – as well as gaining registration to do so.

He also said he was looking forward to seeing how scripts would make their way to the pharmacy.

“Obviously if there’s going to be a teleconference or phone consultation, and a prescription is written, it won’t be handed to the patient physically.

“So consideration needs to be given to how that is communicated to a community pharmacy to dispense, and if the pharmacist feels it’s been done appropriately, the next step is whether they carry the stock, and are they registered.

“I think as we go down this path they may be more likely to carry it.”

He says he also supports consideration for conscientious objection.

“It comes down to personal beliefs,” he says. “The way I see it, if a person has beliefs where they can’t fulfil their professional obligations at that moment, they need to know where to refer to.

“My personal view is that it’s my job to help people, but I’ve worked with pharmacists who are not comfortable handling this, and in those instances the pharmacist needs to know how to refer to another supply point so patients aren’t disadvantaged.”

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