Greens put forward bill to allow abortion drugs by prescription in Canberra
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Greens put forward bill to allow abortion drugs by prescription in Canberra

The ACT Greens will move to make abortions more accessible and affordable, with a bill to make it legal for doctors to prescribe RU486 in the territory.

Abortions have been legal and regulated in the ACT since 2002, however only a registered medical practitioner can carry out the procedure in an approved facility.

Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur.

Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur. Credit:Jay Cronan

There's only one place in the ACT to legally access a medical or surgical termination, the Marie Stopes Clinic, and procedure costs about $500.

Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur said her bill, to be introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly this week, was prompted by the closure of Tasmania's only surgical abortion provider.

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Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse, centre, attends a prayer vigil outside the Moore Street abortion clinic in 2015.

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse, centre, attends a prayer vigil outside the Moore Street abortion clinic in 2015.Credit:Graham Tidy

However Ms Le Couteur said she had learnt women were heading over the border to NSW to access the drug via prescription. There, the pill can be as cheap as $250.

"If you Google search for medical abortion Canberra, you'll find there is someone who provide sit. You'll then look at it and it's in Queanbeyan. They're advertising it like that because there's a demand," Ms Le Couteur said.

Women can have a medical termination for pregnancies under nine weeks through the Marie Stopes Clinic, but the drugs must be administered there, which Ms Le Couteur said was "impractical" and lacked "discretion".

The ACT had to install an exclusion zone around the Marie Stopes Clinic in 2016 after it became a target for right-to-life protesters.

"The biggest advantage that will happen if this legislation is passed is if a person who needs an abortion finds themselves unexpectedly pregnant they can talk to their GP they're used to going to and their GP could be in a position to say 'yes I believe a medical termination is the best outcome and I can give you a prescription'," Ms Le Couteur said.

The bill includes safeguards so doctors, nurses and chemists who conscientiously object to abortions would not be forced to provide the drugs, unless it was a life or death situation.

The Greens initially considered provisions that would have forced conscientious objectors to refer women onto another practitioner that could supply them with the drugs, but omitted the clause after the ACT Human Rights Commission raised concerns.

Similar clauses had proved controversial in Victoria, Ms Le Couteur said.

The Human Rights Commission also raised concerns that the quality and provision of aftercare would be diminished by allowing the drugs to be taken outside approved medical facilities.

However Ms Le Couteur said there was already an onus on GPs to provide appropriate aftercare for their patients.

The bill would also allow clinics to apply to become a provider of surgical terminations.

Ms Le Couteur said it was unlikely the bill would "open the door" to more practitioners in the short term, but could open up more choice for women in future.

It's understood there have been some backroom negotiations between the Greens and Labor over the bill.

Unlike previous private members bills put up by Ms Le Couteur, this bill was not put to an exposure draft first.

ACT Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris has previously said she would look into lowering the cost of abortions, as part of a review of the territory's sexual and reproductive health services.

Abortion is a conscience issue for the Canberra Liberals, although leader Alistair Coe and health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne oppose them.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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