RU 486 (mifepristone) is listed by the World Health Organisation as an ‘essential medicine’ and has been used by women worldwide as a safe alternative to a surgical abortion. Currently women in every state and territory in Australia – apart from the Northern Territory – have access to RU 486 in order to terminate unwanted pregnancies. However, in the NT this is forbidden by legislation.
This week has seen the launch of #OnHerTerms, a community campaign to show support for amendments to the NT Medical Services Act to improve access to termination of pregnancy services, including broadening of access to medical termination (RU486). The following piece, by public health researcher Anna Nicholson from the Menzies Institute, outlines the background to the campaign and how people can support this initiative.
Anna Nicholson writes:
The NT can be a frontier in many respects, and people tend to favour laws that increase individual freedoms. Euthanasia? We tried. Cracker day? Don’t threaten it. Open speed limits? Certainly, says the Minister, let’s see what happens. But when it comes to termination of pregnancy services things get a bit mouldy.
Last month, Independent MLA Kezia Purick announced her plans to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to NT Parliament to address issues around access to termination of pregnancy.
The NT is the only jurisdiction where women are unable to choose RU486 over surgery when terminating a pregnancy. Further, they must prove to two doctors that the termination is required to preserve their mental or physical health.
As a nation, we have come to accept that termination of pregnancy must be available to all women, should it be needed. Regardless of your personal beliefs, issues around access to these services are about health equity.
In the Northern Territory, 1 in 4 women live outside cities where surgical terminations are performed (Darwin and Alice Springs). This particularly affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who are more likely to live in remote parts of the Territory.
For many women and couples, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a stressful and emotional one. For those who must travel for the procedure, the stress is intensified, as are the costs.
A reliance on surgical management can also mean delayed access to termination services, particularly during periods in which specialist positions are unfilled (this is not uncommon in the transient Territory, and can mean flying patients out or specialists in). This can result in delayed access to termination services, which increases the risk of complications.
While On Her Terms is advocating for better access to termination of pregnancy services in the NT, it is also about reducing the associated stigma. Hospital separation data shows that there are 1,000 terminations of pregnancy to every 4,000 live births in the NT. Each of these terminations carries its own story.
Talking with people about the campaign, many women have opened up about their own experience terminating a pregnancy. Their fears are ones many women can relate to: a skipped pill, failed contraception…or circumstances that were terrifying or insurmountable at the time.
On Her Terms is a community-run campaign, which aims to share community experiences and views around termination of pregnancy, to show support for changes to the NT Medical Services Act. You can read these stories from our blog (onherterms.blogspot.com.au) on Facebook (On Her Terms) or Twitter (@OnHerTerms).
We welcome public conversation, and demonstrations of support. Share and retweet! Upload a photo of yourself with a sign reading #OnHerTerms (to our twitter handle, or tag us on Facebook).
We are reliant on community input to sustain momentum. If you have a story to share, or would like more information, please e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for getting involved. Change is overdue!