By SARAH KRASNOSTEIN
A woman in Australia may think she can freely access a safe abortion if she needs to. Until she finds out she can’t.
A woman in Australia may think that the battle for control over her body has been fought and won. Until she finds out it hasn’t.
In case the news that the Government is considering adding RU486 – the medical abortion pill – to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) has lulled you into thinking that women have made equality gains in Australia, think again.
Only since last August have I had somewhat, kind of, free-ish access to a medicine that is on the World Heath Organization list of essential medicines. A medicine that is available to my counterparts in about 50 other countries, some for the last 25 years.
Currently, RU486 is prohibitively expensive for many of the women who need it. It is prescribed by doctors in a limited number of clinics that many of those women cannot easily get to. And the only reason that it is available at all in Australia is because private providers took up the slack on the government’s obligation to provide access to health care.
Surgical abortion requires anesthetic. It requires instruments inserted into the uterus. But since 1988, numerous countries have provided non-surgical alternative to early gestation termination. So the fact that the Australian Government is now poised to follow suit is good news. But the fact that true access to earlier and less traumatic abortion has come only at this extremely late stage is cause to stop and reflect.
Our Health Minister has described the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s recommendation that the federal government subsidize RU486 as an important first step towards the drug being listed on the scheme once the government examined evidence on its safety.
To that I say: are you for real?
As if this evidence wasn’t already patently clear from 25 years of use in about 50 other countries and the endorsement of the World Health Organization that it should be made available to all women.