General practitioners in Canberra will soon be able to prescribe drugs like MS‑2 Step, closing a gap in ACT law that had forced women to go over the border to access abortion pills.
The laws - designed to make abortions less expensive and more accessible for women - originated as a private members bill from Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur, that was amended by Labor and passed on Wednesday.
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.
That means the only places women can access a medical or surgical termination is the Marie Stopes Clinic, where the procedure costs about $500, or the Canberra Hospital in certain circumstances.
That has not stopped women from using telehealth providers to get a hold of the pills, which can cut the cost of an abortion in half.
Ms Le Couteur said the laws would bring the ACT into line with other Australian jurisdictions.
"When I tabled this bill earlier in the year I said it's high time the ACT expanded access to safe and legal termination services, not in order to see them proliferate but to ensure every child born in the ACT is a wanted child and that women are empowered to make safe, timely and informed decisions about their own bodies, their future wellbeing and that of their families," Ms Le Couteur said.
Canberra GP registrar Dr Jess Tidemann said she was aware of people travelling to Queanbeyan for the drugs.
"Cost is a real barrier," she said.
Dr Tidemann said stigma around getting an abortion was also a real concern.
"Conservative estimates are one in four women in their lifetime will have an abortion. If people can access the service from their GP it can make it both easier to access and reduce stigma, given there are many reasons you can present to a GP.
"It's difficult with places like Marie Stopes, who provide a valuable service but lots of women struggle to present to the service with it being known why they're there. Particularly if there's issues with family violence, the less conspicuous women feel while presenting the better."
Dr Tidemann said the drugs were already subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and listed for prescription in the community.
"It seems logical it would be provided by a general practitioner," Dr Tidemann said.
"By normalising this as part of primary healthcare, in turn you're destigmatising and facilitating access, which is important to me in terms of being a GP."
Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the new laws would be implemented over about a year to allow GPs, pharmacists and telehealth providers to get up to speed with the changes.
She said medical practices who decided to offer medical abortions could opt to an exclusion zone, like that in effect around the Marie Stopes clinic.
“The ACT is a progressive jurisdiction that strives to ensure women are able to get access to safe medical abortion services on their own terms,” Ms Fitzharris said.
“I’ve spoken to a number of doctors who support being able to prescribe this medication, so it’s a good step forward that women will now have more choice in the ACT if they make the decision to have an abortion.”
Minister for Women Yvette Berry said the new laws would "give women a greater choice of confidential and safe abortion services".
However ACT Opposition health spokeswoman Vicki Dunne spoke emotively against the bill, saying abortion drugs were dangerous and she had reservations about the extension of buffer zones.
"I think the minister overestimates the power of a handful of septuagenarians to disrupt the abortion industry in the ACT by simply saying the rosary or reading their bible," Mrs Dunne said.
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