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A $5.90 abortion is not a reality.

By MAMAMIA TEAM

When it was announced in June this year that the Federal Government would be adding the abortion drug RU486 to the PBS, the fact that was emphasised in most news reports was how cheap an abortion would now be.

When this change was first announced, newspaper headlines screamed that abortions would be available for as little as $5.90 . Prohibitive costs will no longer inhibit women’s abilities to control their own bodies, cheered some. This will mean abortions on demand for the same cost as a Maccas meal, scare-mongered others.

But is any of this really true? Is simplistic reporting giving young women the incorrect information about the actual cost of terminating a pregnancy? Mamamia spoke to Marie Stopes International in order to get the real facts, and this is what we found:

When the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee first recommended that RU486 be added to the PBS, it was widely reported that RU486 and misoprostol (the drug it is used in conjunction with) would be likely to cost as little as $5.90 for concession card holders – and $36.10 for general patients. Previously, prices for RU486 could cost anywhere from $300 to $800.

Reproductive rights campaigners welcomed the move, saying the change was a positive one for young women and low-income earners. Kirsten Begg, a board member for youth-run reproductive rights organisation Vocal Majority says:

“It is essential that young people have safe, legal and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health services – including abortions – and this recommendation from the committee means that we are one step closer to realising that goal.”

Maria Deveson Crabbe, CEO of the Marie Stopes International group in Australia, is delighted that RU486 has been added to the PBS, saying, “medical abortion gives women choice over the method of their medical treatment.” But she also points out that, despite the fact that the cost of the drugs has fallen – that is not the total cost of the procedure. She says:

“It is important to remember however, that the cost of the drugs is only part of the costs involved in obtaining a medical termination. Other cost areas include medical practitioner consultation fees, ultrasound costs, blood tests or other tests if required.”

So an $5.90 abortion is not actually a reality.

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Deveson Crabbe explains further that “whilst it is unlikely that women will be able to access a medical abortion for the cost of the drugs alone, we do expect that over time, the overall cost of a termination will decrease as more medical providers incorporate it into their local practices.”

General practices will eventually be able to prescribe the drug, after they participate in specialist training. This will expand the availability of RU486 – and lower the cost of the drug.

It will be cheaper for women to see a GP, and for women in rural areas it will significantly reduce transportation and accommodation costs that can be involved in obtaining an abortion.

Another point of tension since it was announced that RU486 would be subsidised by the government, was that it would be subsidised by the taxpayer-funded PBS. Some camps expressed indignation that women’s access to an abortion drug would be ‘funded’ by taxpayers.

However, as Maria Deveson Crabbe points out that, RU486 being added to the PBS will actually save taxpayers’ money.

“As a result of PBS listing, not only will these drugs be an affordable price to women but we also estimate savings to the tax payer of around $32 million over five years due to the likely reduction in costs associated with funding surgical termination through public hospitals and Medicare.”

For women who take RU486 – which will only be available as an option in the first seven weeks of pregnancy – there will also be a 24-hour hotline for women to call if they experience symptoms that they are worried about.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said in June that, “No drug is without the potential for side effects … But there is a great deal of statistical evidence now internationally that show the complication rates are very low.”

The Minister says that adding RU486 to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was really about giving women more options at what is a terribly difficult and stressful time.

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