Greens to set up Senate inquiry into abortion, contraception access in Australia

The Greens have established a new Senate inquiry to look at how easy or hard it is for people to access abortion services and contraception in Australia — particularly those living in regional and remote areas.

The Senate voted in favor of Greens spokesperson on women Larissa Waters’ motion on Wednesday afternoon to create the inquiry, with a report due back by the end of March 2023.

She said the idea for the inquiry came in the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned in the United States.

“Of course the legal system’s different but it was a question of access … and that’s given us cause to reflect on Australian women’s ability to access reproductive healthcare and it’s not great,” she said.

“Particularly in regional and rural areas, it costs a bomb and often you’ve got to travel hundreds of kilometers to get basic health care.”

Senator Waters said reimbursing women for out-of-pocket costs was one change the federal government could make.

“How can [the government] help coordinate and ensure that the states are essentially harmonizing so that no matter where you live you get the same quality of healthcare,” she said.

“Some of the levers that the federal government could be pulling is making sure that public hospitals provide medical abortions and surgical abortions, there’s potential funding levers that they could say unless you’re providing this basic healthcare service you’re not going to get federal dollars.”

Senator Waters said the inquiry, announced on international safe abortion day, would also be tasked with looking more broadly at how to increase access to other reproductive healthcare like contraception.

Larissa Waters speaking in the Senate.
Larissa Waters says the inquiry will hopefully show areas where the federal government can increase abortion access.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Four in 10 unintended pregnancies, report finds

The move to set up the inquiry comes on the same day a report into the impacts of unintended pregnancies was released and delivered to parliament.

The report, commissioned by global healthcare company Organon which makes a number of contraceptives, found 40 percent of pregnancies were unintended.

Of the women who experienced unintended pregnancies, 31 percent of terminated the pregnancy.

Professor Danielle Mazza from the Center of Research Excellence in Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Primary Care, said there were a number of issues around abortion access in regional Australia.

They include the time-sensitive nature of eligibility for a medical abortion, which involves taking prescription medication, and a lack of trained GPs.

“It still remains a fact that many rural and regional areas across Australia have no GPs that are providing this service,” she said.

Professor Mazza said she would welcome any process that shed a light on access issues and provided real-world policy solutions.

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