In terms of Australia’s varying laws, Tasmanian women have among the best legal access to abortion, with terminations legal without qualification up to 16 weeks.
So why then are Tasmanian women often forced to travel to neighbouring state Victoria for the procedure?
This has been the case since the state’s only specialist gynaecology clinic shut its doors last month. It was the last place pregnant women could access surgical abortions without an excessive out-of-pocket cost to themselves. Abortions are not offered in the state’s public health system.
While it’s been reported a limited number of gynaecologists will perform the procedure, the cost – between $1500 and $2500 – is prohibitive to many.
Now, the future of women’s access to abortion depends on the outcome of the state’s March election.
Labor has promised to restore women’s access by promising to make surgical abortions available through public hospitals, or invest in a stand-alone abortion clinic.
However, premier and leader of the state’s Liberal government, Will Hodgman, said his party would not make the same commitment. Instead, he vowed only to continue to support women travelling to Victoria with financial assistance.
Meanwhile, Tasmania women remain in limbo.
Options for Tasmania women
Medical abortions are legal and available to Tasmanian women. The medication, which can only be taken up to nine weeks gestation, is an effective and safe way for women to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.
Beyond nine weeks, the situation becomes a lot more difficult and potentially stressful, as pregnant people consider either travelling to Victoria or finding ways to organise and afford an expensive procedure.
However, women in Tasmania aren’t without support.
Women’s Health Tasmania executive officer Glynis Flower said the organisation was working hard to keep information up to date and to support women in their choices. Flower also said her team continued to do their “utmost” to assist women.
She encouraged women who are, or may be, pregnant and are seeking services to reach out to Women’s Health Tasmania, Family Planning Tasmania, The Link Youth Health Service and Pulse Youth Health Service.
“These four services will provide information on the full range of services and options. Counselling is available if required,” Flower told Mamamia.
How does restricted access to abortion affect women?
Research shows that in most cases, an abortion does not negatively impact a woman’s mental wellbeing longterm. However, being denied access to an abortion they wanted, can.
“What we do know is that women who are denied access to abortion that does increase their stress levels and causes anxiety and actually compounds an already challenging situation,” sexual and reproductive health specialist Dr Catriona Melville told Mamamia.
“That particular study showed that women were denied an abortion there was a significant impact on their mental well being. They had more symptoms of anxiety, lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction.”
Dr Melville, who is a senior medical officer at non-profit abortion clinic network Marie Stopes Australia, said a Scottish study also showed that women having to travel (to London) for an abortion could actually result in women just having the child.