Can you get the abortion pill from your GP? What you need to know about RU486.

Trigger warning: This post contains information regarding abortion.

How to plan an abortion.

It’s something you mightn’t have thought about unless you’ve been in the position of needing to. Unfortunately, abortion in Australia isn’t as straightforward as making a choice about your own uterus.

The process of getting an abortion in Australia is complicated.

The reality is this: like planning to buy a house or planning to have a family, planning to have an abortion – should you ever need one – is something to consider before you find yourself in the situation of needing or wanting one, because a lack of time and knowledge can limit your already limited options.

One such option is the abortion pill, otherwise known as RU486.

An option to a surgical abortion, which is a day surgery performed by a doctor or gynaecologist, the abortion pill in Australia can be taken to medically abort pregnancy at home.

Sounds simple, but it’s not really.

For one, you can’t always get the abortion pill from your GP. It’s also expensive, and you can’t buy the abortion pill over the counter.

Let’s go through everything you need to know about the abortion pill, from the cost of the abortion pill and abortion pill side effects to where to get the abortion pill, should you need to.

What is the abortion pill?

The abortion pill is actually two pills – Mifepristone (RU486) and Misoprostol – taken together in what is known as a medical abortion (or non-surgical abortion). It is only available for pregnancies up to nine weeks (more on that later).

“A medical abortion is a way for a woman to have an abortion on her terms,” Sydney-based General Practitioner Dr Brad McKay told Mamamia.

Pills pouring from a bottle.
Abortion in Australia isn't as simple as making a choice about your own uterus. Image: Getty.

How does RU486 work?

The combination of Mifepristone and Misoprostol works to terminate early pregnancy by forcing the uterus to 'expel' the pregnancy in a way that mimics a woman's regular period.

Dr McKay explained Mifepristone "blocks the production of progesterone," a hormone needed to sustain pregnancy. 36-48 hours after taking Mifepristone, the Misoprostol tablet is taken, which softens and opens the cervix, and causes the uterus to contract and pass out the remaining pregnancy tissue.

Can you get the abortion pill over the counter?

No, the abortion pill is not available to purchase over the counter at a pharmacy. You need a prescription to buy RU486.

Can you get the abortion pill from your GP?

As Dr McKay puts it, you can "technically get it from your GP, but you can't."

"As a GP, I would love everyone to know you can go to your GP and have a frank discussion about [abortion], but talking realistically, there are a wide variety of different opinions and experiences that GPs have across Australia," he said.

"If you've got a GP who is trained in sexual health and, perhaps, more left-wing, they're generally happy to have those frank discussions. If you don't know your GP, then you could experience judgement, unfortunately."

Only very few GPs in Australia are authorised to prescribe a medical abortion as additional training is required to prescribe RU486. You can ask your GP if they know of another GP or a GP in their clinic who is qualified to prescribe the abortion pill.

The abortion pill is most readily available in Australia through private abortion clinics around Australia (you can find a list of providers here) or through a tele-abortion.

What is 'Tele-abortion' and how does it work?

A tele-abortion, also known as a medical abortion by phone, allows women to safely access the abortion pill and terminate pregnancy without visiting a clinic or local provider, Marie Stopes Australia reports.

In Australia, there are two tele-abortion providers: The Tabbot Foundation and Marie Stopes Australia, a not-for-profit organisation.

How to get a tele-abortion.

According to The Tabbot Foundation and Marie Stopes, the process of having a tele-abortion is:

  1. Contact The Tabbot Foundation (1800 180 880) or Marie Stopes (1300 401 926), or enquire via their online booking forms to have someone contact you.
  2. You'll be provided with discreet referral forms to get an ultrasound and a blood test at a location near you.
  3. If your test results show you are eligible to have a tele-abortion, you will have a phone consultation with a qualified medical professional.
  4. You'll be provided with the abortion pill and any other necessary medications by courier.
  5. Conduct the medical termination at home.
  6. In the seven to 10 days following the medication, you will need to get a second blood test to confirm the termination was successful.
  7. Follow up support, including access to a 24-hour nurse and doctor aftercare service, will be provided after the termination.

Can everyone have a tele-abortion?

Tele-abortions can be performed up to nine weeks into pregnancy, but to access the service, your pregnancy must be less than 63 days along by the time of the abortion.

"Patients need to be booked in by eight weeks because the medication can be taken up to nine weeks (63 days)," Marie Stopes Senior Medical Officer Dr Catriona Melville told Mamamia.

"So if someone called us who was 57 days, we would work out where they live, how long it would take for the medication to reach them and they can have their doctor consult and medication before reaching 63 days, then we would provide the service."

Other tele-abortion considerations include:

Abortion shouldn't be a taboo topic - author and activist Lindy West thinks so too, she shared her experience with abortion below. Post continues after audio.

Cost of abortion pill.

How much the abortion pill costs depends on how and where you access it.

The actual abortion pill medications cost $38.80 under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). However, a medical abortion accessed through a GP costs anywhere between $0 and $580 upfront. According to Buzzfeed news, regional Australians could pay up to $700 for a medical abortion. This differs state-to-state:

A medical abortion (non-surgical abortion) through Marie Stopes costs:

  • With a valid Medicare Card = from $440 (some private health insurers cover medical abortion).

A tele-abortion through Marie Stopes costs:

  • With a valid Medicare Card = $290 + $62.50 for the medication ($31.10 for Health Care Card Holder).

A tele-abortion through The Tabbot Foundation costs:

  • With a valid Medicare Card = $325 (includes all medications and medical consultations/advice).
  • Without a Medicare Card = $600.

Private health cover is not applicable to tele-abortion services.

Abortion pill side effects.

Women may experience side effects after taking the abortion pill, most of which mimic a period.

After taking Mifepristone, you may experience:

  • Nausea or dizziness.
  • Bleeding and cramps that feel like a painful period (sometimes severe cramping).
  • Headache, chills and diarrhoea.

If any of these side effects last for longer than a few days, contact your relevant health professional (GP or 24/7 support service of your abortion provider).

This article is not to be substituted for professional, personalised advice. For more individual information about medical abortion in Australia, please contact Australian Women's Health Network or the Government Health website for your state.

If this post brings up any issues for you, please contact SANDS on 1300 072 637 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.