The Government's proposed new pregnancy counselling Medicare item number may well breach women's privacy, AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, warned today.
Available only to women who are uncertain about whether to continue with their pregnancy, the item would allow identification of women who talk to their GP about termination, Dr Haikerwal said.
"This item number would put on the record the fact that a woman has had an unplanned pregnancy or is uncertain about whether to continue with her pregnancy, regardless of her ultimate choice," Dr Haikerwal said.
"That information would be accessible to anyone who may see the woman's account, either during payment or during collection of the Medicare rebate.
"That could include family members, practice staff or Medicare staff.
"This impacts on patients' privacy - particularly in small towns or close-knit communities - and may potentially lead to discrimination against the patient.
"In addition, the item number excludes use by GPs who have been associated with termination services and restricts the provision of such counselling to GPs who have undergone mental health training.
"In combination, these three factors will significantly limit Australian women's access to pregnancy advice, care and counselling - the exact opposite of what the Government says the item number is designed to do.
"This is an important health and human rights issue."
Linking the item number to mental health training implies that women who are counselled have a mental health problem, Dr Haikerwal said.
"We don't believe pregnancy is a mental illness," he said.
"GPs are highly capable of providing full and objective information to all women, including those who are pregnant, in a supportive, confidential environment - regardless of whether they work in private practice, for a termination service or anywhere else.
"The AMA calls on the Federal Government to abandon the proposed pregnancy counselling item and develop a new item that makes counselling by any GP available to all pregnant women."
Women may want or need counselling for pregnancy-related issues such as post-natal depression, genetic disease, contraception, sexual health and miscarriage, Dr Haikerwal said.
"If the Government wants to reduce Australia's abortion rate, it would do better to aim to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by expanding education and access to contraceptives," he said.
"Interventions such as counselling must not attempt to coerce women into making any particular reproductive choice."