The ACT Government has announced it will make both medical and surgical abortions free for anyone who needs to access one.
It comes as Canberra Liberal MLA Nicole Lawder took the “brave” step of sharing her own deeply personal story of accessing an abortion.
It was the first time Ms Lawder had spoken publicly about her experience.
Ms Lawder detailed her experience in the Territory’s Legislative Assembly this morning as Minister for Women Yvette Berry moved a motion of solidarity with the people of the United States following the overturning of Roe v Wade earlier this year.
When she accessed her abortion, Ms Lawder was married with children and living in the United States. She said the decision was not an easy one.
She told the Assembly how she had begun dragging her feet with trepidation and fear as she approached the clinic, not because she was changing her mind or regretting her decision but because there was a large number of protesters outside.
“An angry, ugly, noisy crowd of about 100 people who were chanting, throwing things at the window including what looked like buckets of blood,” she said.
“I was jostled, jabbed and pushed. People spat in my face. Hours later I was required to walk through this same ugly, noisy and hateful crowd.
“They were not there praying for me. I was afraid and that fear has stayed with me.”
Ms Lawder was also required to be shown photos of aborted fetuses as part of the process – a process she said was not supportive, despite it being legal.
She told the Assembly those were dark times for women.
“I’ve never regretted what I’ve done, but I have reflected on it. For many years afterwards, on the anniversary of my abortion, I wondered about what would have happened to that baby,” she said.
“It’s been years since I’ve thought about it that way but I’ve never forgotten the ugliness of that protest.”
The Member for Brindabella acknowledged that not everyone in her party shared the view abortions should be accessible.
“Abortion is a deeply personal matter,” she told the Assembly.
“Women should have control over their bodies and what they can do with them should not be dictated by others.”
Ms Berry introduced the legislation on the 20th anniversary of abortion being decriminalised in the ACT.
The initial legislation to decriminalise abortion was introduced by Ms Berry’s father, Wayne Berry, in 2002.
It’s also an offence to protest within 50 metres of a clinic in the ACT.
Ms Berry and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith also used the day to announce one of the final barriers to accessing a safe abortion in the ACT – cost – would be removed midway through next year.
All ACT residents will be eligible even if they do not have a Medicare card.
The initiative will cost the government $4.6 million over four years in out-of-pocket costs.
People accessing abortion services will be able to receive free long-acting reversible contraceptives at the time of abortion, which the government says has been shown to reduce demand for abortion.
These are not mandatory.
While there is no legislated gestational limit on abortion in the Territory, there is a practical one as a surgical abortion can only be performed locally up to 16 weeks.
Beyond this date, people must travel interstate – generally to Sydney – to access one.
Advocates say the costs involved in this can skyrocket to thousands of dollars.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT would continue to work on expanding abortion access beyond 16 weeks. The Minister also noted there are some programs available for people who need to travel interstate for medical reasons.
She also called on the Commonwealth to take the lead on a nationally consistent approach to providing free abortions. She confirmed she had written to Health Minister Mark Butler urging him to do so.
Federal Labor pledged to provide a nationwide free service in 2019 as part of an election commitment, but it did not take that policy to the last election.