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Question: Access to abortion services via Telehealth during COVID-19

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:07): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing on the topic of access to abortion services under the pandemic.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: As members would possibly be aware, abortion is still regulated under our Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935. This means that, in South Australia, a woman or a girl seeking a medication abortion, known as a medical abortion—to be clear, it's a course of two sets of tablets taken early in a pregnancy that is unwanted—cannot access Telehealth due to our archaic laws. Indeed, there is a life imprisonment penalty under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. A woman or a girl has to have lived here for two months prior to being able to access our lawful abortion services whatsoever. Should she live anywhere in this state, she needs to go to a prescribed hospital, not once but twice, to access those tablets. If she lives in Mildura, she can use Telehealth and have them posted to her, but if she lives in Berri, she cannot.

It is an archaic law that has not yet been addressed, but in this pandemic where, as we know, there is coercive domestic violence, there are women who are abused being isolated with their perpetrators and, in many cases in those particular violent and abusive situations, being controlled—and reproductive control is one of those tools. What measures has the government taken to ensure that all women and girls can access Telehealth to access early medication abortion earlier in an unwanted pregnancy, particularly where domestic violence is a factor?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:09): I feel as though I should be careful because the issues that the honourable member has raised were basically adverted to in this morning's debate, and that debate hasn't concluded. In relation to emergency measures, the parliament is still considering the government's bill. What I would say up-front is that the government is not going to be using the emergency powers to subvert the powers of parliament. We will respect that parliament has put the laws in place and that they should be honoured.

To the extent that issues arise in the context of the pandemic that would justify short-term changes, they will only be in place for the duration of a major emergency, and they would lapse. Certainly, we are mindful of the impact that our directions are having on the delivery of services, and I would just highlight the work done to moderate the impact of the elective surgery, non-urgent band, in relation to women who had commenced an IVF treatment and had not been able to complete it. I acknowledge the representations of the Hon. Emily Bourke on that matter. The government did act. There was a direction issued and families have been able to complete their cycle.

Certainly, representations have been made to us in relation to the challenges of the current law in relation to medical termination of pregnancy. Certainly, one of the key priorities of the public health clinicians is to minimise avoidable travel. As the honourable member says, members of this parliament have raised the issue of access to health services in terms of Telehealth and medication-based termination of pregnancy, but it is doubly an issue in the context of a pandemic. We want to use Telehealth in all sorts of domains that we don't normally fund it, because it would help us reduce avoidable travel. At this stage, all I can say is the issue has been raised with the government and it is being looked at.

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