When the American legal precedent protecting women’s right to an abortion in the United States, Roe versus Wade, was overturned last year, women around the world felt anxious.
In Australia, despite abortion being legal, there was increasing concern about women’s ability to access abortion. This led to a Senate inquiry into universal access to reproductive health care.
This inquiry has now concluded. A key recommendation is that:
all public hospitals within Australia […] provide surgical pregnancy terminations, or timely and affordable pathways to other local providers.
This recommendation has been welcomed by abortion advocates around the country. But why is a recommendation like this necessary? Why don’t hospitals already provide abortions?
Training on how to provide abortion has not been a routine part of gynaecology or GP training and there is a shortage of trained providers, particularly for complex cases.
Hospitals haven’t felt obligated to provide abortions. To date, no-one has held them accountable for providing this essential service. There has also not been any regional-level planning to ensure services are locally available.
The Senate inquiry recognises many public hospitals, particularly women’s hospitals, that receive public funding are faith-based and will not allow abortions to be delivered at their premises, even if the doctors and nurses want to offer them.
While the recommendations are a step in the right direction, action is needed to translate these recommendations into actual services on the ground. The government’s response is eagerly awaited.