Labor’s abortion policy: all the issues explained

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Labor has announced a national sexual and reproductive health strategy to improve access to contraception and abortion. A major plank of this policy is to “support all women to access termination services in public hospitals”, raising a number of crucial questions:

What has Labor announced?

As part of the broader package, Labor this week announced that if they’re elected, they would work to ensure abortion is provided “consistently” in public hospitals throughout Australia.

Abortion is regulated by the states and territories, but Labor say they could achieve their aim by tying it to federal funding provided in the five-year commonwealth-state hospital funding agreements.

Labor’s deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, said this measure was necessary to end the “patchwork” provision of abortion that currently occurs across the country.

Where do Australian women access abortion now?

Only up to about 10% of abortions in Australia take place in public hospitals, according to family planning organisation Marie Stopes. The remainder are provided privately though Marie Stopes warns that figure is only an estimate as there is no nationally consistent data available.

Provision differs widely between states – in South Australia, all terminations take place in the public system, while in NSW, public services are very limited.

“Marie Stopes see many women who have been turned away from NSW public hospitals, even women who have had significant health complications,” said the acting chief executive, Jamal Hakim, in a statement.

What does it cost to have an abortion in Australia?

Procedures can be provided for free in public hospitals, but the costs incurred by using a private provider varies around the country, and increases for pregnancies that are further along.

According to a 2017 study, the median, Medicare-rebated upfront cost of a medical abortion was $560 and a surgical abortion was $470 in the first nine weeks. The median cost of abortions after 19 weeks, which are rare, was $7, 700. The study found women routinely incurred additional costs in the course of having a termination, such as travel and accommodation, adding up to an average of $150 each.

Will all public hospitals be required to provide abortions?

No. The requirement would be for abortion to be provided consistently, not necessarily universally. Labor says individual hospitals and doctors would not be forced to provide abortions, but it would be up to the states and territories to demonstrate that the public health system was offering women across their state access to a safe abortion.

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