RU486: Will anything change?


Art work: Monika Correa

Art work: Monika Correa

This week abortions have been making headlines all around the world, first in the United States with #ShoutYourAbortion and later in Australia with the new phone access to RU486. This new system, launched by The Tabbot Foundation, means that women in Australia will be able to receive a medical assessment over the phone and have the abortion drug RU486 posted to them, for completion of an at home abortion. As always, there has been a mixed response to this pro-choice decision.

 "....despite Australia being a developed, first world, modern country there are still only three jurisdictions that allow abortions based on a woman’s legal right to choose."

Once you remove anomalously conservative opinions that seem to have been dragged out of the 19th century, the key concern being voiced is that the availability of over the phone abortions will lead to an increase in sexual irresponsibility. However, the denial of safe and easy access to abortions for Australian women is not going encourage or teach people about safe sex. It is this train of thought that continues to stigmatise women who undergo abortions as sexually irresponsible rather than autonomous and forward thinking. If people were seriously concerned about sexual safety, they would be petitioning for a sex education program in schools that addresses the responsibilities, of both genders, when it comes to STD and pregnancy prevention.

But I digress.

Despite the very clear benefits of this implementation, such as increased access to safe and affordable abortions for women in some regional areas, there are still genuine problems that may arise from this introduction to the market. One of these is that an over the phone consultation may not provide the adequate emotional support necessary for women undergoing such a procedure. And, with such a massive price disparity between regular abortion (up to $1000) and this new service ($250), for women in low income or financially vulnerable positions, the option of seeking an abortion with a health care practitioner is simply unrealistic. However, at least with this system these women are in the position to terminate their pregnancy if necessary.

While there has been backlash, there has rightfully been a lot of support behind a service that will, seemingly, make abortions more accessible. But when you look at the actual legislation in Australia pertaining to abortions, the whole situation becomes far less encouraging.

A very real concern following this announcement is the fact that, for many women around Australia, nothing will change. This is because despite Australia being a developed, first world, modern country there are still only three jurisdictions that allow abortions based on a woman’s legal right to choose. In Queensland, women still face up to seven years imprisonment for undergoing an abortion unless a registered doctor advises it is performed to “prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health”. Similarly, while the service is said to be aimed at assisting women in regional areas, in the Northern Territory (which is wholly classified as regional Australia) an abortion is only lawful “when performed in a hospital by an obstetrician or gynaecologist, and when two medical practitioners determine that the woman is in mental or physical danger. As such, The Tabbot Foundation service will not be available at all in South Australia, the ACT or the Northern Territory due to legislative loopholes.

Essentially, what could have been a positive step for Australia’s regional health care system has been over shadowed and made almost redundant by backwards legislation. When it comes to abortion, the complex and messy legislative situation in Australia requires full law reform before we can even begin to consider this a win for women’s rights to self-efficacy.