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Speech: Abortion Access under COVID Pandemic

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:38): I rise today to talk about abortion access for South Australian women under the COVID pandemic. South Australia is the only place in this nation where almost all abortions happen at a public hospital and at no cost to the patient. However, the procedure is still regulated in this state by the criminal law under which the penalty for an illegal abortion is life imprisonment. Yet, abortion is legal in South Australia if two doctors agree that a woman's physical and/or mental health is endangered by the pregnancy or if there is serious foetal abnormality, but it must also take place in a prescribed hospital, even to take the pill of what is a medical abortion, and the patient, of course, must have been resident in South Australia for some two months, a proviso peculiar only to this state.

The hoops that patients need to jump through to access a medical abortion in this state should have been removed years ago and would have been if we had moved to decriminalise abortion as SALRI has now recommended. Under the pandemic, those hoops, those barriers, are even more profoundly insulting and archaic. As Gina Rushton has reported in Buzzfeed news earlier this month, South Australia is now waiting on one man to decide whether or not a woman can access an abortion by telehealth, an essential health service that in any other state or territory of this nation pregnant people are currently able to access.

It has never been more important that people not be forced to travel. Yet, in South Australia we continue to force pregnant people to travel hundreds of kilometres to take some pills. It presents a barrier to health access at the best of times, but this is the worst of times. The UK and Ireland recognised that at the onset of this pandemic and their similar laws were suspended to allow telehealth abortion access in that nation.

Yet, South Australia's law has remained unchanged, despite words in this place by the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, despite an ongoing lobbying campaign by those who we know have been very vocal on this such as the SA Abortion Action Coalition, but also groups such as the Human Rights Law Centre. Our law has remained unchanged despite the ludicrous nature of the fact that we know South Australian women and girls are contacting Marie Stopes and that Marie Stopes could offer them that telehealth abortion in any other state or territory except for South Australia right now.

Those phone calls are redirected and those women and girls are forced in some cases to travel literally hundreds of kilometres to take these pills. To add insult to injury, that we are claiming this is somehow good for their health, they are forced to return while miscarrying. So if we really cared about their public health, if we really cared about public safety, we would not be forcing women and girls under this pandemic to take that journey. What we are doing is waiting for that one man, police commissioner Grant Stevens, as the UK and Ireland has done, to issue a direction under the Emergency Management Act, as he has the power to do, to ensure that that telehealth is accessible, that the best possible provision of health services is happening in this state and that, indeed, the safety of these women and girls is not imperilled.

The ludicrous nature of the fact that, while there has been public lobbying on this, the Human Rights Law Centre asked me how they could contact State Coordinator Grant Stevens. I thought it would be on the website and that led me to call the COVID hotline because there is no publicly available information for the State Coordinator. I was referred last week in that call to dial 131 444. The irony of my having to call the police for the insurance of women and girls in this state to access public health, I think, absolutely underscores that when this pandemic is over we must have the political courage to ensure that the best public health continues to be offered in this state and that we remedy this archaic law and stop forcing women and girls to travel hundreds of kilometres because our archaic 50-year-old laws have not kept up with the 21st century.

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