— Post by ALRANZ President Dr Morgan Healey, in response to Return of the DIY Abortion

The issue of access and availability of medical abortions here in New Zealand is just one of the main reasons ALRANZ believes the current law creates unequal and adverse consequences for women’s reproductive health. The fact that many women living in New Zealand may be choosing to purchase medical abortion drugs online and have them shipped into the country, hoping these will make it through customs, is an indictment on this government’s desire to act like an ostrich and hides its head in the sand. As the author points out, currently only 8 units offer medical abortion here in New Zealand and I would imagine most of these are in urban areas. Once again leaving women in rural areas without any form of choice regarding having a medical or a surgical abortion.

Comparing across countries, medical abortions account for only 6.8% of abortions here in New Zealand (as per the ASC’s 2011 annual report), while according the Department of Health in the UK, 43% of all abortions (England and Wales) in 2010 were medical abortions and 51% of abortions up to 9 weeks were medical, which is in line with best medical practice that says the sooner, the safer. Early medication abortion assumes that women will not have to wait up to 3 weeks for care.

I do not want to spend the rest of time rehashing the excellent points raised by Dr McCulloch. Instead, I want to add two further points of my own. The first is in relation to the story told by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts of the women who contacted Women on Web because she did not have the $2000 necessary for an abortion in New Zealand. Currently, women who are not residents of New Zealand, but who are here studying or on a work or visitor’s visa, have to pay out of their own pockets for an abortion. Their health care coverage does not cover contraception or abortion. While this is a wider concern, I think it is important to note that these women face even greater inequities in accessing a necessary reproductive health service (particularly in light of the fact that they might not have the means to pay the full cost of contraception)! These women are likely to continue to need services like Women on Web so that an affordable option is available. This is a major gap in services and one that needs to be addressed and rectified.

The second point I would make is slightly tangential and hypothetical, but aligns with ALRANZ’s overall aim of both increasing and ensuring existing availability for all women, regardless of age, region or residency. As many are aware, Family First has been agitating for another go at parental notification – so much so, they have taken their agenda all the way to the Prime Minister. The ramifications of such a change could be far reaching and it is not unlikely that young women, afraid to tell their parents, will resort to ordering medical abortion drugs online. This is not to be alarmist, but to consider the possible strategies a young woman could employ to ensure her privacy.

Overall, the article is great food for thought. It highlights just one of the perpetual concerns ALRANZ has with the law as it stands. Here are just a few other reasons why women’s reproductive rights are not being adequately met in New Zealand.