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Australian Obstetricians Demand Decriminalization of Abortion

by Gopalan on August 6, 2009 at 2:34 PM
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 Australian Obstetricians Demand Decriminalization of Abortion

Australian obstetricians have called for decriminalization of abortion.

"There needs to be legislative certainty for doctors that they won't be prosecuted for performing abortions, if that's what they want to do, and that women shouldn't be prosecuted for trying to access one, if that's also what they want to do," says Ted Weaver, president of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians.

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"So we need to take it out of the criminal code, essentially.

"Some states have enacted law reform, Victoria has and South Australia has, but in Queensland abortion is still contained within the criminal code.

"The College's position would be that it should be taken out of the criminal code and if people want to access that service, and that's their business, then those services should be provided in a safe way."
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For many women, attending an abortion clinic is unaffordable or out of reach, so increasingly it seems some women are turning to what is known as a "medical" abortion - in others words, terminating a pregnancy by drugs rather than by surgery.

Medical abortions are available in many western countries including the US, Sweden and New Zealand, but not in Australia unless you visit one of a handful of gynaecologists.

Consequently many women could be illegally buying a drug to induce their own abortions at home.

"The drug Misoprostol, which is legally available for a number of reasons in Australia, is also being used undercover or covertly by some women for procuring an abortion for themselves in Australia," said Caroline de Costa, professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at James Cook University's School of Medicine in Cairns.

"I think this is probably most common amongst some immigrant women from China and from south-east Asia, where the drug is widely used in this way anyway."

Dr de Costa says it is disturbing to hear of women buying the drug illegally.

"I'm aware of anecdotal evidence that this is happening; I've spoken to colleagues who have also mentioned that they have come across cases," she told ABC News.

"We know that it is easy to access the drug on the internet, it is sold in Australia and prescribed in Australia for other purposes so it can be illegally accessed that way."

Another drug used for medical abortions is RU486. Women illegally source this too.

"RU486 used as an abortifacient is only about 85 per cent effective if you use it by yourself, so these women may in fact have incomplete abortions and need surgical evacuation of their uterus afterwards," noted Edith Weisberg, director of research at Family Planning New South Wales and a senior clinical lecturer at Sydney University.



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