Privatising abortion is not good for women’s health (or finances)
In an article written by Associate Professor Suzanne Belton, Chairperson of Family Planning Welfare Association NT, and published in Croakey, unregulated markets, a smaller welfare sector, and the tightening of public health budgets has seen the out-sourcing of abortion services from public hospitals to the profit-driven private health sector. Consequently, a common gynaecological health need, to regulate fertility, has been marginalised by the public health system.
Associate Professor Suzanne Belton, Chairperson of Family Planning Welfare Association NT, says 95 per cent of elective abortions in Australia are performed in the private health sector. She says this not only imposes significant cost to women but underscores and exacerbates the stigma that still surrounds abortion in Australia.
Suzanne Belton writes: ‘It is a lucrative field of medicine with women paying upwards from $400 into the $1000s either directly in out-of-pocket fees or from their private health insurance. There are additional expenses in getting access to abortion services such as costs of medications, blood tests, screening tests, travel to health services and accommodation. As most women seeking abortion services are mature and, in the workforce, missed work and childcare are also costs that women pay.
The only way to get a publicly funded abortion in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory or Western Australia is to be utterly poverty stricken and perceived as a ‘deserving patient’ fitting opaque hospital criteria.’
For women who have low-income or cannot access their partner’s income to finance the up-front abortion fees, there are few places to turn to for a short-term loan. Children by Choice, an independent Brisbane-based non-profit organisation, offers women in Queensland no interest loans or negotiates reduced fees from abortion providers. According to its recent annual report:
“In the two years to June 2017, 34.7 per cent of financial assistance clients experienced violence with the man involved in the pregnancy, and almost half the funds provided through our financial assistance program went to women living with domestic and/or sexual violence. None of them were able to access a termination provided by their public hospital.”
According to Belton, only the Northern Territory and South Australia stand out as providing abortion services that are fully funded by the public health system. In these jurisdictions, surgical and medical abortions are provided by the public health system for all women. Women can choose to use a private gynaecologist or health service though most do not. Access to services is fair and is largely hindered by distance from services rather than by finances as in other parts of rural and remote Australia.
As a result, nearly all abortions in South Australia and the Northern Territory are provided by the public health system, but this only accounts for five percent of all abortions in Australia due to the small populations of these two jurisdictions.