Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


Tasmania: Surgical Termination Services

7:25 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to talk about an issue of great concern to many Tasmanian women, that being our access to surgical termination services in my home state of Tasmania. I am deeply concerned about the recent closure of Tasmania's main provider of surgical terminations, the Specialist Gynaecology Centres in Hobart. As the main provider of these vital services for women, Dr Hyland has cited the increased demand for medical terminations and sharp increases in insurance premiums, along with the cost of accreditation and compliance, as the main reasons for the closure of the centre. This closure follows the closure of the Launceston clinic in 2016. It means that women who need to access these services can now only do so at great expense by travelling interstate, having to pay for flights, accommodation and other associated expenses. These extra costs are adding more to the stress of what is already often an emotional and stressful time.

Family Planning Tasmania's Chief Executive, Cedric Manen, said the closure of Dr Hyland's clinic will be especially difficult for, and will have an impact upon, women in the north and north-west of Tasmania who need a surgical abortion. The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Michael Gannon, has said that the situation is unacceptable, stating:

… to think Tasmania has women crossing the Bass Strait to access something which is a legal and legitimate form of healthcare, and the fact that they have to make excuses to be absent from school or work or university to obtain what is their right, is very simply not good enough.

While some women may opt for a medical termination using the drug RU 486, which Labor added to the PBS in 2013, this type of procedure is not always appropriate and some women require a surgical termination. Many Tasmanian women choose to access medical terminations online via the Tabbot Foundation, which was also established by Dr Hyland. The foundation aims to make this process more accessible for women throughout Australia.

Abortion was legalised in Tasmania under Labor in 2013. At the same time safe access zones were created, making it unlawful to protest, harass or record within 150 metres of a clinic. The passage of that legislation clarified the law and greatly improved access for women.

When the Prime Minister was in Hobart recently he was asked about the closure of the Hobart centre. He said, 'I will leave this issue.' This was the Prime Minister's response. Why would the Prime Minister seek to distance himself from Tasmanian women's right to access safe, legal and much-needed abortion services in our home state. The statement by the Prime Minister shows that he doesn't really care about the lack of access to this essential service for Tasmanian women.

We need real leadership to advance women's reproductive and sexual health options. However, both the state Liberal premier, Will Hodgman, and the federal Liberal government seem content to leave this issue to someone else, subjecting the women of Tasmania to increasing costs and other barriers when they need to access terminations. There is a single remaining provider in the state. However, the price charged for this service is not affordable and this may leave many women in a difficult situation. Whether the Prime Minister and the current Premier of Tasmania like it or not, this is an essential healthcare service—not an elective procedure, not a luxury, but a vital service that often needs to be accessed at short notice and at times of significant stress and turmoil, when having the support of family and friends nearby is important.

For the leaders of our nation and state to sit idly by and expose vulnerable women to the potential of having to travel interstate on their own to access a medical service is not on. Senators may recall the motion moved last week by Senators Urquhart and Rice and me that called on the government to work with the states and territories to remove all barriers to Australians accessing abortion services and, where state and territory health systems failed to provide abortion health services, to step in to ensure funding and the provision of essential reproductive health services for all Australians. No-one should have to travel interstate for an essential service, particularly one as stressful as termination. It is of great and public importance that a solution to this problem is found as soon as possible. There is no excuse for this. All Australians deserve to have an accessible health system they can rely on in their time of need.