Public hospitals should give abortions, committee says

·2-min read

All Australian public hospitals should be able to perform abortions to ensure regional and rural people have equal access to reproductive health care.

A parliamentary inquiry report, entitled Ending the Postcode Lottery, was tabled on Thursday, finding contraception and sexual health care services aren't equally available across the country.

Among 36 recommendations, the Greens-led inquiry found the government should make contraception more affordable and available, that state and federal government collude to ensure maternity services are operating in non-metropolitan hospitals and lift restrictions on medical abortion.

Labor senators backed the report and its recommendations, although they noted many of the issues raised by the inquiry were state and territory matters and that some issues raised were matters of conscience for MPs.

Greens senator Larissa Waters said her party would push for all recommendations to be implemented as soon as possible.

"The message has been clear throughout this inquiry - there are currently too many barriers to abortion, contraception, sexual health care, and maternity services in Australia. That needs to change," she said in a statement.

"These recommendations will have a real impact on people's access to reproductive health, and we welcome the unanimous support for them from the committee."

The committee heard Australia does not have adequate abortion clinical services, leaving women on lengthy waiting lists and often travelling long distances for access.

"This can cause delays and increase the cost, complexity and risk of trauma," the report said.

"These issues were raised as particularly acute for women and girls living in rural, regional and remote Australia, where access to any hospital can be challenging."

It's also calling for a national hotline that can be accessed for support on how to access pregnancy care and abortion services.

Victoria has a hotline - 1800 My Options - the committee found it could be modelled on.

"Half the battle is figuring out where you can go to get an abortion or advice on contraception," Senator Waters said.

"A national hotline will provide a single touchpoint for people to find reproductive health care where and when they need it."

Monash University's head of general practice Danielle Mazza saw "profound and disturbing inequities" in Australia's sexual health care field.

"Abortion is an essential health care service and publicly-funded hospitals need to provide these services," she said in a statement.

"Workforce capacity building and regional accountability are key aspects to ensuring access to contraception and abortion services.

"Contraception and abortion services should be available at no cost and free of the regulatory barriers that hinder evidence-based practice as occurs in other countries such as England, Canada and Ireland."