'Just not good enough': Bendigo woman says improvements needed for abortion access in central Victoria

Two Bendigo women have told their stories of the barriers to accessing abortion in Bendigo, hoping to make things easier for other women in the future.
Two Bendigo women have told their stories of the barriers to accessing abortion in Bendigo, hoping to make things easier for other women in the future.

Related: Fifteen calls in five days: Barriers to abortion in Bendigo laid bare

A CENTRAL Victorian mental health social worker believes Bendigo is in clear need of greater women’s health services that allow women to access abortion without encountering resistance from medical staff.

Her call comes as a second woman told the Bendigo Advertiser of her frustration in trying to access abortion services in Bendigo this year.

Accredited social worker Christine Brett Vickers provided in-hospital counselling for women with unexpected pregnancies 30 years ago, when medical professionals were trying to find ways to halt the spread of “backyard abortions”.

Now based in central Victoria, Ms Vickers said the issues faced by women trying to seek termination services in Bendigo were unacceptable.

“There is clearly a need for a well contained and managed services which does not fall foul, unconsciously or not, of passive resistance by medical and ancillary personnel who do not accept abortion,” she said.

“Abortion is not easy for anyone. It is hard for the professionals concerned as well as for the women, couples and families who will experience it.

“But it also needs to be available and safe.”

Ms Vickers worked with the Pregnancy Advisory Service in the 1980s, where women could discuss their options confidentially.

It was set up by two obstetricians who had seen the consequences of backyard abortions over many years as women desperately tried to find alternatives to following their pregnancy to term.

Medical and social work staff could opt out of the service, but it was able to give women access to the latest advice and support.

Ms Vickers said the reasons women sought abortion remained the same, while the procedure itself had become safer.

“In most cases the women’s decision to seek termination was made after careful thought,” she said.

“Abortion was rarely thought of as alternative means of contraception, or as a simple entitlement for irresponsible young women.

“I do not think this has changed.”

Last week, a Bendigo woman spoke of the barriers she encountered while trying to access surgical abortion in Bendigo.

They included a GP who refused a referral, and the Choices clinic at Bendigo Health not responding to 15 phone calls to make an appointment. The process lasted four weeks.

Another woman has contacted the Bendigo Advertiser with her experience seeking medical abortion – a process that left her “horrified”.

I have been so angry at the whole process and so disappointed that many more women and families must be going through the same thing daily here.

A women who accessed abortion services in Bendigo

After two weeks of doctors appointments, blood tests and an ultrasound, she received a referral to the Choices clinic.

She was too early to have a surgical abortion, and was referred to Bendigo Community Health Services to access medical abortion – a process that requires a prescription for the drug RU486.

It has a 98 per cent success rate for women in the early weeks of pregnancy.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted Bendigo Community Health and was told the doctor who could make the prescription was unavailable for two weeks.

“At that point I would have been too far along for a medical abortion so would need to be referred back to Choices clinic for surgery, but couldn’t book that until the time came,” she said.

She expressed her frustration to Bendigo Community Health which gave her the phone number for the only two GP clinics in Bendigo that can prescribe RU486.

The process cost $700 out-of-pocket, including doctor appointments and medication.

The woman said she despaired for others who did not have the financial means to seek abortion in Bendigo.

“Luckily my husband and I are in a position where we can afford this, as the two-week process and extra money on top may have many women at breaking point,” she said.

“I have been so angry at the whole process and so disappointed that many more women and families must be going through the same thing daily here.

“It’s just not good enough.”

Bendigo Health reopened its Choices clinic in 2013, two years after its closure.

Bendigo Community Health also offers a range of reproductive and sexual health services at its Women’s Health Clinic, adding medical abortion after noticing an increase in women seeking the service.

They claim that a doctor is usually present four days per week.

Chief executive officer Kim Sykes said they tried to provide a confidential environment for women.

“Offering this service does not increase the number of terminations that will be sought but provides a safe and supervised environment for women who make this decision, many of whom would put their physical or mental health at risk without access to such a service,” she said.

“To support women with unplanned pregnancies our clinic includes an appointment with an accredited nurse to discuss the options available, the organisation of medical investigations required, appointments with a medical practitioner and counselling if needed.

“When a woman says that she is considering a medical termination, appointments are made quickly as this will only be provided if it is within 63 days of conception.”

Women seeking information about termination can contact BCHS anonymously on 5448 1600.