Health system needs to support abortion

Abortion is a common and legal medical procedure in Victoria.

Our state acknowledges a woman’s right to access abortion – and in recent times, has legislated it can be done so safely with laws that ensure 150-metre ‘safe access zones’ around premises where pregnancies are terminated.

Such laws to protect women, and staff at those premises, became necessary because of the harassment and obstruction they faced when trying to access buildings where terminations were carried out.

Obstruction and harassment by those attempting to shame women for making choices about their own bodies, and accessing a procedure they are legally entitled to.

Unfortunately, as today’s Bendigo Advertiser highlights, such obstructions are all too common for many women in regional Victoria – though the barriers are sometimes different. We are lagging behind other regional centres in providing safe, affordable access to abortion and failing to provide women with the information they need to be able to make decisions.

In Bendigo, it is difficult for a woman to know who to go to for information or referrals – whether for a medical termination, or surgical procedure. Responses vary between medical clinics, and often GPs themselves don’t know where to refer women to. Indeed, some refuse to because of their own beliefs.

Women are already shamed for choosing abortion. They are often fearful in small communities to reach out and tell anyone, for this reason. When information is difficult to access, it can leave some women with few choices – and potentially put lives at risk. 

We need to talk about abortion – again, a common legal medical procedure. We need to open up the dialogue about contraceptive choices available to women and ensure they have access to them – and we need to respect their right to make choices when contraception fails. The World Health Organisation estimates there would still be six million unplanned pregnancies each year, if every couple used contraception every time they had intercourse.

If we, as a state, acknowledge abortion should be available to all women, our regional public health system does not support that. How we provide access to this procedure should be in line with all other medical procedures – with an adequate system in place that addresses the issue openly and without judgement. 

Nicole Ferrie, editor