Abortion by telehealth is not healthcare, say advocates
Pro-life groups say a push in South Australia to legalise DIY at-home abortions through the use of new emergency laws will put women at risk.
They are concerned that laws in place to respond to COVID-19 may be used to permit early at-home abortions using the controversial drug Mifepristone (also known as RU486) in the absence of any in-person medical consultation.
The COVID-19 Emergency Response 2020 Act passed in the state’s parliament earlier this month allows its Police Commissioner Grant Stevens power to make “various temporary modifications” of South Australian law.
The modifications need to be declared by Commissioner Stevens who has already made some directions under the Act following advice from SA’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier.
Such temporary changes could include allowing women access to medical abortions at home through telehealth services. A declaration under the Act allowing that move has not yet been made, however the Commissioner is under pressure to use his new powers to ensure all women can access an abortion without being unnecessarily exposed to the coronavirus.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Stephen Wade said in a statement to media that he “understands that the existing process and procedures for medical termination of pregnancy involve avoidable travel and increase the risk of transmission of coronavirus”.
Minister Wade had been advised that the COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill 2020 could be used to “allow women seeking abortion to use telehealth rather than in-person consultations to meet the requirements of the law in a way which better protects public health,” he said.
The development comes as SA’s Attorney-General Vickie Chapman drafts a bill to expand abortion in the state, while the South Australian Law Reform Institute reviews the current abortion legislation.
Emergency laws should not be ‘hijacked’
Christopher Brohier, the Australian Christian Lobby’s South Australian director, said the emergency COVID-19 response should not be “hijacked” to override abortion laws.
“With a live debate underway in parliament, now is not the time to make abortion more prevalent and more dangerous for women,” he said in a statement. “This push would allow women to take abortion drugs without proper medical supervision, so endangering their lives. It will further proliferate abortion in this state.”
“The Premier and Cabinet must step in. Abortion law policy is a conscience vote for the parliament and should not be hijacked by agents within the government, using the COVID-19 emergency as a pretext.”
LifeChoice Australia is calling on concerned South Australian citizens to email Commissioner Stevens and ask him to reject the proposal.
“DIY abortion-at-home is dangerous,” said its director Rebecca Gosper. “There’s a reason why this practice is currently banned in South Australia and that reason is to protect women. “It’s important that people voice their concerns about this and the best way to do that is by contacting the police commissioner as soon as possible.”
Currently in South Australia, in-patient surgical abortions up to 23 weeks gestation are legal with the sign-off of two doctors. Supervised medical abortions are legal up to nine weeks. In-patient surgical abortions in the state are deemed an essential service during the pandemic.