Medical Abortions: Increased Accessibility and the Need for More Prescribers
Medical abortions are set to become more accessible in Australia, with changes coming into place on August 1. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is removing the requirement for extra certification or special registration for prescribers and chemists dispensing the medicine. This move is expected to remove a significant barrier to accessing medical abortions, but there is still a need to increase the number of healthcare professionals prescribing the medicine.
Currently, only 10 percent of doctors in Australia are registered to prescribe medical abortions. This lack of prescribers has resulted in 30 percent of Australian women having no local providers of abortion care in their area. The situation is even worse in remote areas, where half of the women cannot access it locally. The SPHERE Centre for research excellence, which specializes in reproductive health, highlights the need to upskill doctors to increase access to medical abortions.
President of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Dr. Nicole Higgins, welcomes the changes as a logical adjustment of the rules. She emphasizes that treating MS-2 Step, the medication used in medical abortions, like any other medicine is part of how GPs deliver reproductive healthcare. While the rule changes will certainly help increase immediate access via pharmacies, Dr. Higgins believes that more needs to be done to increase the number of prescribers. Upskilling doctors will be necessary to meet the growing demand for medical abortions.
Assistant Minister for Health Ged Kearney states that these changes bring Australia in line with countries like Canada. The regulatory changes will also coincide with Medicare changes, as nurse practitioners will join doctors in having these prescriptions subsidized by the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Assistant Minister Kearney highlights the time-sensitive nature of the procedure, with MS-2 Step only able to be used in the first 9 weeks of gestation. Increasing access to medical abortions is crucial, especially for women in rural and regional areas.
The federal government’s Women’s Health Advisory Council has heard numerous stories from women about the lack of reproductive healthcare in certain areas. These changes reflect the government’s commitment to improving primary healthcare, strengthening Medicare, and ensuring that healthcare practitioners can work to their full scope of practice. The changes also address recommendations from a recent senate inquiry into reproductive healthcare, which called for significant improvements in abortion access.
It is important to note that these changes are long overdue. Australia has been lagging behind other countries when it comes to reproductive healthcare. Medical abortions are known to be safe, and the guidelines used in Australia were out of step with the rest of the world. By removing the certification and registration requirements, more healthcare professionals will be able to prescribe medical abortions, making it easier for women to access the necessary medications.
While these changes are a step in the right direction, there is still work to be done. Increasing the number of prescribers is crucial to ensure that all women have access to abortion care. Upskilling doctors and providing education and training opportunities will help bridge the registration gap and improve accessibility in both urban and remote areas. Additionally, ongoing efforts should focus on reducing stigma surrounding abortion and promoting comprehensive reproductive healthcare services.
In conclusion, the removal of certification and registration requirements for prescribers and chemists dispensing medical abortions in Australia is a positive development that will increase accessibility. However, there is a need to address the shortage of prescribers and upskill doctors to meet the growing demand. By doing so, Australia can ensure that all women have access to safe and timely abortion care, regardless of their location.