The Territory government will look into how accessible and affordable abortion services are in the ACT following the overturning of Roe v Wade and the removal of the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States.
That decision sparked protests around the world, including in Canberra.
The ACT Legislative Assembly committee on health and community wellbeing will also look into the existing legal protections for the procedure.
Chair Johnathan Davis said it is the right time to look into it.
“In response to what our community is seeing unfold overseas, now is the right time to reflect on the accessibility, affordability and legal protections for abortion and reproductive health services for people here in the ACT,” he explained.
In the ACT, there is no legislated gestational limit on abortion, but it is only practically available locally until 16 weeks.
After that time, people must travel to Sydney to access one.
Abortions have locally been decriminalised since 2002 when it became regulated as a health service and it’s an offence to protest within 50 metres of a clinic.
But executive director of Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT) Tim Bavinton told Region there is still more that can be done in regards to improving abortion accessibility in the Territory, particularly regarding the cost.
If a person waits longer than 16 weeks gestation, for example, they will be required to pay for the more expensive surgical procedure, as well as travel and accommodation costs interstate.
There’s also the stigma that remains associated with abortion which means people may not be able to reach out to their partner or family and friends for support.
“In scenarios where people are dealing with mental health or substance abuse and addiction, for example, many don’t find out they are pregnant until later in the picture and it may take them longer to make the decision on whether to terminate,” he said.
“Federal and state and territory governments must review funding arrangements for abortions through public hospitals so that everyone – regardless of their capacity to pay – can have access.”
Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Women Yvette Berry, who described the decision in the US as a major set backwards for women’s rights, said she was aware the most significant barrier to accessing an abortion in the Territory was the cost.
“The ACT Government is committed to ensuring equitable access to abortion services for all ACT residents,” she said.
In the 2020 ACT election, ACT Labor made a pre-election commitment to “significantly reduce the upfront cost of surgical abortion in the ACT, eliminating the cost difference between a medical or surgical abortion”.
Ms Berry said ACT Health is also exploring opportunities to improve affordability and access to abortion services in the ACT to enable women to make decisions about their healthcare based on what is best for them and their body.
That could mean fewer women are forced to travel to Sydney to access an abortion after 16 weeks’ gestation.
The Legislative Assembly inquiry is accepting submissions until 5 pm on Monday, 15 August, and it will report by Tuesday, 18 October. Submissions can be emailed to LACommitteeHCW@parliament.act.gov.au.