Having an abortion made me realise Australia must do more to make it accessible and affordable

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/EPA</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/EPA

There are some moments in life that leave you at a crossroads. Time stands still and seconds feel like hours, forever etched in your mind.

I’ll never forget the morning I woke up not feeling myself, and thought I’d take a pregnancy test to ease my mind.

I never expected it to be positive. But there it was – two bright, blue lines. I felt as if I was going to faint.

I was just 21, about to finish my law degree and excited to begin my working life. It was always clear to me at the time that a baby wasn’t part of my plan. I was already on the contraceptive pill, so I knew what I wanted to do.

I’ll admit I hadn’t engaged much on the issue of abortion until it affected me personally. My religious upbringing and my that-will-never-happen-to-me mentality never made me really consider it. All I knew was that in Victoria, it was legal, thankfully.

But when I made the call for an appointment, I was shocked at just how difficult it was to access an abortion.

Related: Explainer: Is abortion legal in Australia and what are the laws in each state?

Despite being decriminalised in Victoria in 2008, there are still many barriers to access and affordability to abortion across the state. It’s even worse for those in remote and regional communities.

I quickly learned I wouldn’t qualify for an abortion through the public system and, even if I did, I’d have to wait weeks, possibly a month. For me, this was untenable.

Instead, I received kind and compassionate care at a private provider, but the $550 bill (in 2013) for someone working casual hours was a blow; and for others, it could break the budget.

From that moment, I began to engage on the topic of abortion at a political level, especially when the debate on safe access zones (which banned protesters from the 150 metres outside a clinic) hit the Victorian parliament in 2015.

Having had my abortion prior to this date, I am just one of tens of thousands of women who had to endure harassment while making a legitimate medical decision. The passage of that legislation was welcome – but it is clear we still have more to do.

While there remains a shortage of public providers of surgical abortions – particularly in some regions – the problem grows with restrictions on medical professionals in prescribing the alternative: medical abortion.

RU486, also known as the abortion pill, is an effective alternative to surgical abortion available up to nine weeks. However, the requirement for doctors having to undertake specialised training before prescribing it adds to accessibility difficulties.

In 2021, Marie Stopes Australia found less than 10% of GPs across the country are registered to prescribe medical abortion medication. This drops below 1% in regional areas, where there are fewer GPs, who are therefore more vulnerable to being targeted by anti-choice activists. It means regional women have no choice but to travel hours – or worse, resort to unsafe methods – in order to terminate a pregnancy.

And despite only costing about $12 to manufacture, RU486 can cost more than a surgical abortion – over $500 in most cases, and up to $700 in regional areas.

But there is a solution: nurse-led abortion care.

Allowing nurses or nurse practitioners to prescribe medical abortions prevents “doctor-shopping”, reduces costs and overcomes a lot of the barriers facing pregnant people in areas where abortions are difficult to access. The World Health Organization also says policymakers can support safe and respectful care by investing in the abortion provider workforce.

Related: ‘Devastating’: Australian politicians respond to US supreme court’s decision on abortion rights

Like all health services, the system should promote equal access and include preventive health measures. Making contraceptives free is a commonsense reform that would strengthen our health system.

I got an abortion because I didn’t want to have a child. I think that is important to say, because too often, we defend abortion by using the most extreme examples of why they’re necessary – such as sexual assaults and unviable pregnancies. But when it comes to making the decision to have an abortion, no one needs a justification or an excuse.

In the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US, women across the world are feeling vulnerable and scared. Anti-choice activists will no doubt be leveraging their win to attempt to restrict abortion elsewhere. An attack on reproductive rights anywhere is an attack on reproductive rights everywhere, and we should not be complacent. After all, abortion was only finally decriminalised in New South Wales in 2019, and only just last year in South Australia.

I’m thankful for my legal and safe abortion in Victoria. But I won’t say it was an easy process.

Governments have a choice to make – we can stay where we are, or we can move forward and show women that their reproductive rights are non-negotiable.

  • Georgie Purcell is the lead Animal Justice party candidate for Northern Victoria at the November state election. She is admitted as an Australian lawyer and currently works as chief of staff for Andy Meddick MP.

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