Medicare funding essential for abortion rights

September 13, 2008

Women seeking a termination of their pregnancy during the second trimester, and beyond, may be denied access to Medicare funding if Tasmanian Senator Guy Barnett is successful in his bid to axe funding for abortions after the 14th week of pregnancy. Currently, women seeking an abortion are covered under the Medicare scheme up until 26 weeks of pregnancy.

The vote on Barnett's disallowance motion is due on September 17. It appears that Labor will allow its MPs a conscience vote, just as it did for the stem cell, cloning and RU486 abortion pill debates.

Barnett is being strongly supported by Nationals Senator Ron Boswell and outspoken Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott. But it seems that the majority of Coalition MPs support a woman's right to choose abortion, and opposition leader Brendan Nelson has said he is opposed to any changes to the current funding arrangement.

Women's Health Victoria stated, in a 2005 abortion issues paper, that statistics over 2003 and 2004 indicate that there were 2719 fewer abortions for women up until 34 years of age in Victoria and Tasmania than in the 10 previous years.

The fact that the rate of abortions is on the decrease will no doubt reassure the federal health minister Nicola Roxton, who is quoted in the Age newspaper on June 18 as saying, "My job as Health Minister is to make sure any medically required interventions are supported by the system, but I think, like everyone in the Parliament, I would like to see our abortion rate reduced".

For pro-choice activists such as Margarita Windisch, one of the Socialist Alliance candidates for the upcoming Victorian council elections, Roxon and other MPs who claim to be for women's rights should oppose Barnett's bid to eliminate Medicare funding for abortions beyond 14 weeks of pregnancy.

"Additional cost for women who have to undergo a second-trimester or late-term abortion is a major concern", Windisch told Green Left Weekly. "These procedures usually require more than one day of hospital care, whereas a first-trimester procedure only usually requires the woman to spend around five hours at the clinic."

In addition, the cost of an abortion increases after 12 weeks. "It is crucial that these vulnerable women, who are faced with one of the most difficult decisions in their life, do not have the further stress of having to pay up-front fees of between $1100 and $3000.

"As Roxon herself reminded us last week, it is our state's health system that must financially assist and support these women to receive the necessary 'medically required interventions' that they require and when they require them."

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