Australia

Abortions can cost thousands of dollars. Soon, Canberrans will be able to get them for free

Canberrans will be able to access free medical and surgical abortions up to 16 weeks’ gestation from next year, with the services available for residents both with and without Medicare cards.
On Thursday, the ACT government announced it would invest more than $4.6 million over four years to remove out-of-pocket costs for terminations.
Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Women Yvette Berry said the move was aimed at addressing any potential inequity faced by those needing to access abortion services.
“This means that individuals will be supported to make a choice about having an abortion without being influenced by financial barriers,” she said.

“It also means that having an abortion can occur in a time-sensitive manner without being delayed due to an inability to pay.”

Activists and advocates have welcomed the move, urging other states and territories to follow suit.
Jamal Hakim, managing director at MSI Australia, said he hoped the ACT government’s announcement would have a ripple effect.
“It’s a step that’s really important for universal access to abortion care,” he told SBS News.

“We hope other states and territories pick that up and then look at how abortion care can form part of universal access to health systems.”

Abortion access a ‘postcode lottery’

Abortion is legal across Australia in certain circumstances, but different restrictions and regulations apply in each state and territory which can limit access, particularly for marginalised communities.

Out-of-pocket costs also vary depending on the provider, gestation period, and whether the abortion is medical or surgical, with some fees as high as $8,000.

Mr Hakim said the out-of-pocket costs are generally around $600 for people with a Medicare card, but those who need to travel for appointments or have additional needs often face higher fees.
“Cost is a big element for people who are accessing this service, particularly because it’s a service that you need timely access to … costs can be quite prohibitive because you need to come up with money really quickly,” he said.
“It is still a postcode lottery, and that’s one of the problems.”

For those based in regional or rural areas, additional costs can include flights for the pregnant person and a support person, overnight accommodation, time off from work, and babysitters or carers for dependents.

Those who don’t speak English may need to pay for translators, and those who do not have a Medicare card face higher costs for procedures, appointments and medication.
“There are so many limitations or blocks and costs for people who are either living in regionally or rurally, or have other psychosocial things that cause them to not be able to access services easily, or migrants and people on temporary visas,” Mr Hakim said.

“The time to go through the process then also increases so that adds additional pressures on the clinical time.”

Abortion access around Australia

ACT: Abortion can be accessed up to 16 weeks’ gestation, and from next year residents will face no out-of-pocket costs. Medical abortions up to nine weeks’ gestation are available through a trained GP, telehealth services, or MSI Australia counselling.
Tasmania: Up to 16 weeks, a pregnancy is able to be terminated by a medical practitioner with the consent of the pregnant person. After 16 weeks, two doctors must approve the procedure.

South Australia: A medical practitioner may perform a termination on a person who is up to 22 weeks and six days pregnant. After this period, abortion is allowed where the practitioner is reasonably acting within the scope of their practice and has consulted with another medical practitioner.

Western Australia: Termination procedures are allowed up to 20 weeks. Beyond this, abortion is only available if two doctors agree the pregnant person or unborn child has a severe medical condition.
Northern Territory: The approval of one doctor is required for an abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation. After that, advice from two doctors is required.
Queensland: Abortion was decriminalised in Queensland in 2018. Those who are up to 22 weeks’ pregnant may request a termination, without disclosing a reason to the doctor, or after 22 weeks, a termination can be performed if two doctors agree.
New South Wales: Pregnant people can seek an abortion up to 22 weeks’ gestation. After this time, two doctors must approve the procedure.

Victoria: Abortion can be accessed up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, following the 2008 reform which decriminalised abortion. Beyond 24 weeks, two doctors must approve the procedure.

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