Tasmanian health providers still in the dark about state’s new abortion service

A woman lies in a bed at the Marie Stopes clinic in Melbourne.
Tasmanian women have been forced to travel to Melbourne for pregnancy terminations.(Supplied: Marie Stopes )

Tasmania’s GPs and the Women’s Legal Service say they have not yet been given any information about a new low-cost surgical termination provider in the state, despite government promises that the service would begin in October.

The state’s only low-cost abortion clinic closed at the end of last year and some women have since been forced to fly interstate for the procedure.

In July the Government announced that the Health Department had signed an in-principle agreement with a private provider to deliver low-cost surgical terminations in Hobart from October.

On Tuesday morning Attorney-General Elise Archer was asked who the provider was, but said she was not sure if the information had been made public.

“I know that the provider will be contacting local GPs and clinics and making all of the details aware in due course,” she said.

“We’ve certainly been assured that will be opening this month.”

Melbourne-based surgical termination provider Marie Stopes said it was still seeing an average of 10 Tasmanian women a month, an increase from 1-2 per month before the Hobart abortion clinic closed.

In September the health department said it had reached an agreement with the new provider and documentation was ready to sign.

The department said the provider was working to finalise licensing and accreditation requirements with a local surgical facility, but it was expected to commence in October.

‘Absolutely ridiculous’ that no information available

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president and Tasmanian GP Bastian Seidel said no information had yet been passed on to GPs.

He said there were standard channels used to let GPs know when a new service provider entered the state, but no information on a low-cost surgical termination provider had been disseminated through those channels.

Women’s Legal Service chief executive Susan Fahey said it was beyond time for the Government to provide more details.

She said all she had heard about the new provider were government promises.

“It’s a significant concern. We’ve been without such a provider for almost 12 months, and if you take into account the many, many months before that, that there were signals that provider was going to be withdrawing, something should have happened well before now,” Ms Fahey said.

Ms Fahey said Tasmanian women needed the State Government to provide basic information about the provider.

“It’s an absolutely ridiculous situation that this would be completely hidden from the public simply because it creates a significant barrier for people to access that service if they don’t even know who to call,” Ms Fahey said.

“It’s always been a concern that the service provided might not be adequate, it may well be a fly in or fly out service, we don’t know any of this until the Government provides us with the details.

“We were promised something in October, it’s October.

“We now need to know what’s the service, where’s it being provided, how often is it being provided, who’s providing it, and what’s the cost associated.”

Women’s Health Tasmania chief executive Jo Flanagan said in a recent case a woman was told by her GP that no termination services were available in Tasmania, and that her daughter would need to travel interstate for an abortion.

“That woman who didn’t have the financial resources had to find the money for her daughter, who was quite unwell, to travel interstate for a termination which she could have accessed in Tasmania if she’d known the right services to contact,” Ms Flanagan said.

“It shouldn’t be … just an accident of luck whether you talk to the right person or the most informed person, it should just be really clear where you go if you have a particular health need.

“This service is coming, it wouldn’t be hard to let people know what the likely shape of it is, when the opening date is, how progress is going. The government do it regularly … in other areas, it should be possible to do it in this area.”

Labor’s Ella Haddad said it was extremely disappointing that a provider had not yet begun operating in the state.

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said it appeared that the Government was dragging its heels on the issue.

A Government spokesperson said discussions were currently occurring with the private provider around government assistance with travel and accommodation costs relating to the provider. 

“Details around any assistance negotiated to secure the service will be made public once finalised,” they said.