Analysis of Marie Stopes health records has revealed ACT women are increasingly travelling interstate to access pregnancy terminations with the national women's health organisation.
Data published in O&G Magazineshowed the number of ACT women leaving Canberra to have an abortion at a Marie Stopes clinic increased steadily from less than 3 per cent in 2014 to about 5 per cent in 2017.
Most women had travelled due to privacy, appointment availability or because their pregnancy was later-term, Marie Stopes Australia, the sole provider of abortions in Canberra, said.
The figure translated to about 100 ACT women travelling to NSW and Victoria over the past five years. The terminations were predominantly surgical with 3 per cent medical.
The percentage figure was the nation's second-highest behind NSW.
Women's Centre for Health Matters executive director Marcia Williams said the data was unsurprising. The centre's own survey on sexual and reproductive health found while the majority of respondents who had accessed terminations had done so in the ACT, those who hadn't had also cited issues with cost, privacy and appointment availability.
Ms Williams said the latter issue was the main sticking point for many women, noting terminations were slightly cheaper in Queanbeyan, where services are provided by Gynaecology Centres Australia.
Abortions at Marie Stopes in Canberra are $500 with a Medicare card with arrangements available for women experiencing financial hardship.
In Queanbeyan surgical abortions up to 12 weeks are $470 with a Medicare card and $810 without, and $520 with Medicare for pregnancies up to 12 to 14 weeks ($860 without).
Medical abortions, performed up to nine weeks' gestation, are $500 with Medicare or $1100 without, plus pathology costs.
Ms Williams said: "A lot of women said that if they needed to access those services the cost would impact their decisions and most of them felt that it would take a bit of time to actually get that together or mean hardships.
“We were surprised how many women said it was hard to lay their hands on the money."
While medical terminations are legal in Canberra there are restrictions on where they can be provided - essentially, the service is restricted to the Marie Stopes clinic and the Canberra Hospital.
This means some ACT women travel interstate to access pregnancy termination drugs.
Telehealth service the Tabbot Foundation recommends Canberra women travel across the border for medical terminations as the low-fee provider can't post the medication to the ACT.
Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT executive director Tim Bavinton said it was not a particular concern that some women travelled to Queanbeyan to have an abortion, adding it was not necessarily an indication of issues with access but a demonstration of regional integration.
But he noted that although later-term abortions were rare, "the increased costs of a later abortion plus the travel interstate are imposed on those who are far less likely to have the financial resources to pay for them". In practice, only abortions up to 16 weeks are provided in the ACT region.
"Women with more significant and complex health needs and fewer financial resources are likely to disproportionately wear the costs of accessing abortion interstate later in gestation," Mr Bavinton said.
Greens MLA and women spokeswoman Caroline Le Couteur will soon introduce legislation to the ACT Legislative Assembly that would in part mean medical terminations could be offered by all doctors and nurse practitioners, as is the case in other jurisdictions.
"It’s not acceptable that Canberra women are forced to travel interstate to access medical abortions," Ms Le Couteur said in February.
"No matter where a person lives, they should be able to exercise their reproductive health rights."
The Sunday Canberra Times emailed each of the ACT's MLAs to ask how they would vote on the Health (Improving Abortion Access) Amendment Bill 2018; Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury said via a spokeswoman he was "a definite yes vote".
A joint statement from ACT Labor said the party supported a woman's right to choose "and has consistently held this position".
"Our priority is to ensure women are able to get access to abortion services on their own terms, and that they are safe and supported through this process," the statement said.
"We have been working with ACT Health and stakeholders on how the government can provide the right policy framework and resources to support some of the proposals put forward by Ms Le Couteur."
The Canberra Liberals told the Sunday Canberra Times the party had requested a briefing from Caroline Le Couteur.
The issue fractured the Canberra Liberals in 2002 after Labor MLA Wayne Berry - current Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry's father - successfully introduced legislation that decriminalised abortion.
Liberal MLA Helen Cross voted with Labor in favour of removing abortion from the territory's criminal code. She later resigned from the party to serve out her term as an independent then was defeated in the 2004 election.
According to the Marie Stopes data, the number of women travelling interstate to access pregnancy terminations increased by 22 per cent nationally in the past year.
Philip Goldstone and Michelle Thompson reviewed 138,800 medical records from 2012–17 from Marie Stopes clinics throughout Australia for their O&G; Magazine article The tyranny of distance for Australian women seeking abortion.