Abortion options still limited

Former Labor politician Cheryl Davenport.
Former Labor politician Cheryl Davenport.

Sixteen years later, the former politician said she was concerned accessibility and affordability of terminations in WA had not progressed enough.

‘The final thing that I said in debate was: ‘This legislation is not perfect and it will take, down the track, another good woman politician who cares to make the necessary changes’,’ she said.

‘And that has not happened yet.’

Northbridge-based Womens Health & Family Service advanced practice nurse Meredith Scobie said the WA system should be accessible like in South Australia where terminations in the public health system were ‘more available and at a significantly lower price’ .

‘Anecdotally, a client told me it would be cheaper for her to fly to Adelaide, have the procedure and fly home than it was to stay in Perth,’ Ms Scobie said.

‘Termination clinics have an important role in WA; a lot of women would prefer that anonymity.

‘However, if women could have the option of going to a public hospital with reduced fees, then that financial stress would be taken off from the already traumatic experience of deciding to have a termination.’

Ms Scobie said she did not refer women to WA public hospitals unless they were for high-risk pregnancies or in particular cases, such as sexual assault.

She said these therapeutic terminations were performed at either King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH) or Swan District Hospital.

Ms Scobie said women seeking an abortion for an unplanned pregnancy were given three options from her GP of keeping the baby, adoption or termination, with a referral letter provider to one of two private clinics if the woman chose to abort.

The third option Balcatta Women’s Clinic closed in July 2013.

In January, a surgical termination at Rivervale clinic Nanyara for women up to 13 weeks’ pregnant costed $450 cash (with Medicare) and $850 (without Medicare), while Marie Stopes International in Midland ranged from $730 for up to 12 weeks’ gestation to $3600 at 19 weeks.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Kim Hames said less than seven per cent of terminations occurred in the public system.

‘The majority of terminations in WA are performed in private clinics which specialise in these services, as has been the case for many years,’ she said.

She said issues around access or cost of terminations had not been raised with the Minister.

Ms Scobie said she saw between one and four women seeking an abortion each week, and ‘reasonably often’ a client told her they could not afford the procedure.

‘The majority of people do eventually find the funds to pay,’ she said.

‘If they cannot, I suggest to them they can negotiate with Nanyara to do part-payments spread out over time.’

Family Planning WA chief executive Steve Blackwell said a woman could be referred to the social work department at KEMH if she could not afford a termination.

‘They would then assess her situation and organise a termination at a private clinic free of charge,’ Mr Blackwell said.

Mr Blackwell said he believed women should be able to access a termination in public hospitals.

‘There would be greater access and it would also not stigmatise abortions as being something that is done privately and quietly elsewhere,’ he said.

‘There are probably public hospitals that offer terminations (in special cases), but I do not know who they are.’

Ms Davenport said she did not blame private clinics; however, the current situation was not the original intent of her legislation.

‘First and foremost it was to ensure women had the legal right to choose a termination, and secondly that it was easily accessible and reasonably priced,’ she said.

‘In this day and age you would have thought we could achieve that.

‘So perhaps the answer is that the public sector should come into play. The bottom line is that no child should be brought into the world that is not wanted. And there are still far too many.’

Australian Medical Association WA president Michael Gannon said women should always feel able to speak to their general practitioners about potentially sensitive issues such as terminations.