Valley contraceptive access poor

Anne Simmons

A survey by Gippsland Women’s Health has found Gippsland women face disadvantage in access to abortions and the emergency contraceptive pill.

Referring a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy to clinics in the city continues to be the preferred pathway for Gippsland doctors, the 2018 report found.

“The referrals to Melbourne-based clinics were extremely high,” Gippsland Women’s Health health promotion worker Anna Roberts said.

“That was for both medical termination of pregnancy and also surgical termination, which of course disadvantaged women further because of the cost of having to travel, accommodation, time off work and childcare for existing children.”

Thirty-six Gippsland practices responded to the survey and 20 of those do not offer a medical abortion.

Eleven of the 20 clinics who do not offer medical termination of pregnancy said they did not have the training for it, the survey found.

Some said they had no time to offer the service, others were conscientious objectors and some had concerns about being identified in a small town as a clinic that offered the service.

Latrobe City had the lowest participation rate in the survey with only seven GP clinics in the municipality taking part.

Among the sexual and reproductive health services offered by Latrobe Valley clinics, the survey found only two out of seven offered surgical or medical termination services.

Both medical and surgical abortion are legal in Victoria.

The drugs mifepristone and misoprostol are used for terminations of pregnancy up to nine weeks.

A secondary report looked at Gippsland pharmacies and Latrobe again had the lowest response rate.

Ms Roberts said the survey revealed some Gippsland pharmacies placed age restrictions on the emergency contraceptive pill, with some not supplying the drug to someone aged 17 and under.

This emergency contraceptive pill can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.

“There were others that wouldn’t supply it to somebody under 16, some under 14, it was quite inconsistent,” Ms Robert said.

She said this meant a young woman could not confidently go into any pharmacy for the emergency pill.

Gippsland Women’s Health is calling for a standardisation of guidelines of practice for pharmacists and is advocating for further training for Gippsland GPs in offering medical abortions.

The Sale-based organisation has welcomed the recent announcement a Labor government would deliver Australia’s first National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy if elected.

Supporting GPs to prescribe medical terminations of pregnancy was a feature of the strategy the government flagged as helping women in the country in particular, where it can be harder to find a doctor who provides those services.

Ms Roberts said the issue was about women having reproductive choice.

“It’s her choice if and when and how many children she has and with whom she has them.”

For information on sexual health in Victoria, phone 1800 696 784.