RU486 available on PBS from today

This is great news for women around the country, and particularly (we hope) for those experiencing financial hardship or those who have previously faced large travel distances to reach an abortion provider.

Now just to fix our antiquated abortion laws, the reluctance of public hospitals to provide termination services, the lack of truly comprehensive and universal sexuality education, the high upfront cost of long acting contraceptives…the list goes on.

But today is a good news day. Our thanks and gratitude to all the incredible women and men who helped make this happen, in particular the four female Senators who joined forces to co-sponsor the bill removing the ministerial veto over the importation of mifepristone in 2006: Claire Moore (ALP), Judith Troeth (Liberal), Lyn Allison (Democrats), and Fiona Nash (Nat).

RU486 to be listed on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

The Federal Government has approved the listing of medication abortion drug mifepristone, or RU486, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) today.

The ABC reports:

Women have paid up to $800 for the RU486 pill, but Ms Plibersek says from August it will cost less than $37.

“It doesn’t change any legal position around abortion and it doesn’t change the number of women who are likely to terminate a pregnancy,” she said.

Ms Plibersek says about 22,000 women have already used RU486 through some clinics.

“What the provision of these medicines does is give women slightly more choice and more options,” she said.

“I think that is a good thing in the situation where women are faced with one of the most difficult decisions that they will ever make.”

This is fantastic news for women across Australia, and we hope that it encourages GPs, particularly those in rural and remote areas, to consider becoming prescribers of mifepristone so women are able to access terminations in their communities.

Overseas, the introduction of medication abortion has generally resulted in more women choosing medication abortion over time, so that although the overall abortion rate remains unchanged, more terminations take place earlier in pregnancy. There is no reason to suspect Australia would be any different in this regard.

On a side note, points to the Daily Tele for publicising the story (“JULIA Gillard’s last act as prime minister included signing off on cabinet approval for slashing the cost of abortion pill RU486 to as little as $12.”) but not for the tacky headline (“Julia Gillard’s cut price abortion drug”. Really?) Minus points to the anti-choice groups who earlier this year described mifepristone as a ‘human pesticide’. Charming.

ThanksJuliaPhoto: Alex Ellinghausen. Published by The Age online on 27 June 2013.

On the issue of abortion access in Queensland

An article on the ABC opinion website The Drum today, by Pro Choice Qld founder and convenor Kate Marsh, looks at the reality of abortion access for women in Queensland:

The minimum cost of a termination procedure is more than the entire fortnightly income of someone on Newstart, and the situation is not much better for women working casually or in low-paying jobs. Women find themselves negotiating payment plans with energy providers, going into rental arrears, arranging short-term loans with exorbitant interest rates, getting food vouchers from charities, and borrowing money from friends on good will or occasionally for an unspecified, darkly alluded to ‘favour’.

Nothing about this is private or accessible, and that’s why many involved in the sector in Queensland will roll their eyes when someone says ‘abortion is a matter for a woman and her doctor’. It’s not. It should be, but at the moment it’s a matter for a woman and her doctor and her boss and her school and her hospital superintendent and her phone company and her landlord and her bank and her extended family and their families and who knows who else.

You can read the full piece online here.

Recommendation to list RU486 on the PBS

Yesterday, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the independent expert group that makes recommendations on which medicines should be listed on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), advised the government that medication abortion drug mifepristone should be added to the list.

The next step in the process is a federal government review of what it would cost to list mifepristone, or RU486, on the PBS. Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has welcomed the recommendation, disputing the notion it would result in an increased abortion rate, and saying it may make a very difficult time for women a little easier.

If listed, the drug would be subsidised for use up to 7 weeks gestation. Health Care Card holders would pay around $12 for the medication, and the general population around $70; however, women will also have to pay out of pocket costs for consultations, ultrasounds, and any other tests deemed necessary by their physician.

It is unknown at this stage what the impact of a listing would be on the cost of medication abortion provided through Queensland’s private clinics, which at present perform an estimated 99% of the state’s pregnancy terminations.

RU486 licensed for Australian distribution

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced on 30 August that two drugs have been approved for distribution in Australia for use in early medical abortion. One of these drugs is mifepristone, also known as RU486, which has been available on a limited basis in Australia since 2006 when the ministerial veto on its importation was overturned in federal parliament (more info available on the Children by Choice website).

The TGA announcement means specialist obstetricians and gynaecologists, as well as GPs who undertake training from the license holder Marie Stopes International Australia, will be able to prescribe mifepristone to women for use in termination of pregnancy up to seven weeks gestation. It is hoped that this will result in expanded access to the drug, particularly in remote, rural and regional areas. At this stage it is unclear what the decision will mean for women in Queensland and how it will interact with Queensland abortion law. The implications for doctors currently approved to prescribe the drug to women with pregnancies up to nine weeks gestation is also unknown.

Do Catholic hospital bans on abortion and contraception breach international human rights law?

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) is responsible for the administration of over 20 public hospitals nation-wide. Their Code of Ethical Standards, which applies to staff in all CHA facilities, stipulates that:

a. Women diagnosed with a fetal anomaly, even one so drastic it means no chance of a successful birth, will not be offered an abortion, nor have a request for one granted, nor be referred to another hospital or provider who may provide this service;

b. Women whose fetuses die in utero will not be offered any drugs or surgery to help speed the inevitable miscarriage process;

c. Rape victims presenting at a Catholic hospital will not be offered emergency contraception, or be told of its existence, or be referred to a rape crisis centre which would discuss this with them, until the hospital has ‘taken steps to exclude the likelihood of pregnancy’.

A report into the Guidelines and their impact on women found that they may breach the International Convention on the Prevention of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, to which Australia is a signatory.

Download ‘Catholic Healthcare Australia Guidelines as Torture, and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment: a human rights enquiry’, by Melanie Poole from the Law Reform and Social Justice Centre at the Australian National University.

Anti-choice protestor jailed

Anti-choice websites are reporting today that long-time anti-choice activist, Graham Preston, has been jailed in Brisbane for refusing to pay thousands of dollars in fines accumulated during years of abortion clinic protests. Preston will reportedly serve eight months in jail, which one site claims is the longest jail sentence ever given to an Australian anti-choice activist; however, Peter James Knight was sentenced to life in prison after the 2001 murder of a security guard at a Melbourne abortion clinic.