Did Tassie Women Just Lose Access to Abortion? An Explainer.

 Options for women in Tasmania are narrowing. (Picture: Unsplash)

Options for women in Tasmania are narrowing. (Picture: Unsplash)

You might've seen the headlines about Tasmania’s last remaining private abortion clinic closing this month. So what does that mean in practice for women in the state? We askedReproductive Choice Australia president, Jenny Ejlak. By Grace Jennings-Edquist..

How will Tasmanian women be able to have abortions now?

Tasmania has a long history of women needing to travel interstate for abortion, with relatively short periods of reliable local access. However, the closure of the state’s last remaining private abortion clinic limits access further, Jenny Ejlak explains.

Some women will still be able to access medical termination (the "abortion pill") via telemedicine and some local providers, she says. Or, if they can find a local gynaecologist willing to do it and if the woman has private health cover and enough funds, they “may be able to have a surgical termination in a private hospital,” Ejlak explains. 

However, “most private hospitals in Tasmania are run by faith-based organisations... which will not permit termination of pregnancy in their premises,” says Ejlak.

For these reasons, many women will need to travel interstate to have abortions, at significant time and financial cost. There is a patient transport assistance scheme that the Tasmanian Government has allowed to be used by women while there is no surgical option available. But there are some serious downsides to this, as it  “will cover some, but not all, costs, and means that women have to go through a third party and have a record of their abortion documented by more people and systems than is necessary,” says Ejjak.

[W]omen have been terminating pregnancies by themselves for time immemorial, and there is no reason to think that isn't happening in Tasmania right now," Ejlak notes.

What could be done to provide better access to abortion in Tasmania?

One thing that needs to change to improve access is a change to current regulations that make it expensive for abortion providers to function. Currently, there are several providers of surgical abortion who would be happy to resume a service similar to the one that recently closed, but “this is currently not a financially viable option for any of them,” Ejlak says.

One of the main financial barriers is the excessive accreditation fees imposed by the government via the Department of Health and Human Services, and the strict requirements for procedure rooms and equipment necessary to meet the surgical day centre accreditation requirements, Ejlak explains. Why are they so expensive? These standards are designed for major surgery, rather than abortions.

Even though abortion providers have lobbied the Department to change the system (eg. allow different standards for low-risk procedures like abortions), so far, they haven’t budged. 

Ejlak adds: “The Tasmanian government, through its Department of Health and Human Services, should proactively liaise with public and private gynaecologists in Tasmania as well as experienced abortion providers based in other states, to find a long-term solution to this uncertainty of access."