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  • NT `25 years behind' on abortion

    Author: AAP

A doctor says the government's decision not to make abortion drug RU486 widely available is leaving the Northern Territory far behind the rest of Australia.

The Northern Territory will remain the only Australian jurisdiction not to make medical abortions widely available, the health minister says.

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John Elferink on Tuesday said cabinet had considered changing the Medical Services Act to permit more widespread use of the abortion pill RU486 but had decided against it.
"There will be no change to the status quo," he told AAP.

No reason was given.


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Frontline Health Brisbane
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In the NT, women can only obtain surgical abortions with a referral from their GP at Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin Private, or Alice Springs Hospital.

Medical abortions (via tablet) are available only in restricted instances for unviable fetuses.

"This decision leaves the NT at least 25 years behind the rest of the world and is out of step with all other states and territories in Australia," said Dr Suzanne Belton, chair of the Family Planning Association NT.

For all other women living across the vast NT, which covers a sixth of Australia's land mass, abortion remains expensive and difficult to obtain.

Women face a road trip of hundreds of kilometres, which could take several days, to reach Darwin or Alice Springs, and may have trouble affording childcare or negotiating time off work, Dr Belton said.

"Let's keep in mind they have children already, or they are the mothers of our future; these aren't women we should be making things hard for in their reproductive choices."
In the NT there are about 4000 births and 1000 abortions each year.

Dr Belton said some women terminated pregnancies because of domestic violence or drug, alcohol, or mental health problems, but others may simply have a completed family.

"(We should) enable people to choose parenting rather than have it foisted upon them as happens when people don't have good access to contraception or termination services," she said.

Mr Elferink said the Health Department is investigating whether to permit independent clinics to perform surgical abortions.

Opposition Health spokeswoman Lynne Walker said she was disappointed with the decision.

"Given the change of heart by the government, the Labor Opposition will consider taking a private member's bill to parliament which would in all likelihood allow a conscience vote," she said.

She said it was an important rights issue.

"Territory women deserve the same rights and choices to access medical treatment that other Australian women do."


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