Australian women will now be able to access medical abortions over the phone, without seeing a doctor or psychologist face to face.
The Tabbot Foundation have launched a telephone service that allows women to receive a medical assessment over the phone, and have the abortion drug mifepristone, or RU486, posted to her for about $250.
The abortion drug is approved for use in Australia, but women have to get approval from a doctor to access it.
Dr Deborah Bateson, from Family Planning New South Wales, said acquiring the drug is not always easy.
“It can still be quite difficult for women to access this and we know that women in rural areas still have to travel sometimes to a major centre and that can be quite challenging indeed,” she said.
“So I think it is about improving choices and yes, having a look at different ways of delivering medical abortions.”
Michael Moore from the Public Health Association of Australia argues abortion should be regulated in the same way as other health-related procedures.
He said the telephone service sounds like a sensible idea.
“There should be no other additional barriers, there should be no other conditions, and it certainly shouldn’t be part of the criminal law,” he said.
“Therefore, when you look at a situation like this, you say “well, where else is it used?
“Telemedicine is now becoming much more common and so it should be available for women.
“It provides a brilliant opportunity for women who would otherwise have a series of barriers in front of them.”
Obstetrician and former Australian Medical Association president Dr Andrew Pesce said medical abortions are mostly safe, but he said the telehealth service will need to be fastidious with follow-up care.
“About 10 to 20 per cent of women who have a medical abortion using mifepristone will not completely miscarry and require a subsequent surgical procedure,” Dr Pesce said.
“The last thing I want to see is women who’ve taken this pill end up with pain and bleeding and end up in an ED department in a busy hospital on a Saturday night needing to take several hours to get through a busy system which isn’t part of an integrated care plan.”
Abortion laws vary across Australia
Laws governing access to medical and surgical abortions are complex and vary from each state and territory.
The service will not be available in South Australia, the ACT or the Northern Territory where a woman must undergo an abortion in a hospital.
Jenny Ejlak from Reproductive Choice Australia believes there is not enough choice for women and there is a need for law-reform.
“The laws are really quite crazy across the country,” she said.
“There are only three jurisdictions where it is legally a woman’s decision.
“Two are relying on criminal law from the mid-1800s and the other three have got a mixture of some things are criminal, some things are legally justified, and there are a whole heap of different conditions to meet.”