The ACT's Health Minister is hopeful the government's decision to provide free abortions will allow people to access care sooner, after an inquiry found outdated models of care and infrastructure prevented the territory from offering later-term abortions.
Free abortions are now available in the ACT following an earlier commitment from the territory government. It could save those needing the procedure up to $600.
The free abortions will be offered at the MSI Australia, formerly Marie Stopes Australia, clinic in the city but Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said there was work under way with other providers to expand this.
The government pledged $4.6 million over four years for the free abortions but Ms Stephen-Smith said this funding was not capped.
"This is a demand-driven service and we'll be looking every year at whether the services need some more funding," she said.
The announcement came following the release of a report from an inquiry into abortion access in the ACT, which said outdated models of care had forced patients to travel as far as Brisbane for later-term abortions.
The ACT is unable to provide surgical abortions after 16 weeks. This is not a legislative requirement but the models of care and infrastructure were established under previous legal restrictions. The inquiry also heard a lack of ultrasound equipment meant some women were not able to access treatment until later in their pregnancy.
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Ms Stephen-Smith would not pre-empt the government's response to the inquiry but she said they were exploring how to address barriers to accessing later-term abortions.
"I think one of the key outcomes in providing abortions free of charge is that people won't need to delay a decision about having an abortion and in order to save up the money to be able to pay for it," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"We do know that there are barriers to accessing later term abortions in the ACT though, and we will continue to work with our community partners and our hospital services around how we address those barriers."
The free procedures can be accessed without a Medicare card. They can be accessed by those who access health care in the ACT, including people from surrounding NSW regions. The Health Minister said a Queanbeyan clinic had also approached the territory government about this.
"We do recognise that many people in the surrounding region routinely get their health care in the ACT and we don't want to put barriers in the way of people who would be accessing health care in the ACT anyway," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"We've also had an approach from a provider in Queanbeyan to say people in the ACT also access services in Queanbeyan so we'll continue to work through and understand where people coming from to access this service."
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