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Medical abortion clinic opens on Gold Coast



Leading reproductive private healthcare Marie Stopes Australia closed its Southport clinic in June, citing rising costs and a decline in patients seeking out surgical terminations. Its new location at Varsity Lakes will offer virtual telehealth and in-person appointments for non-surgical termination, as well as contraception, vasectomy and STI screening services.The clinic’s opening comes off the back of a 167 per cent spike in telehealth appointments on the Gold Coast since March 2020, according to Marie Stopes. Telehealth appointments, known as a medical abortion by phone, allow women to safely access the abortion pill and terminate a pregnancy without visiting a clinic.Two pills – Mifepristone (RU486) and Misoprostol – are taken under the advice of a healthcare professional at home and available only up until nine weeks gestation.NED-2822-GCB-APPThe Misoprostol tablet is taken 36-48 hours after RU486 to soften and open the cervix, causing the uterus to contract and pass out the remaining pregnancy tissue.The cheaper price, from $250 to $400 once blood tests, ultrasounds and consultations are factored in, and avoiding clinics during the height of Covid-19 contributed to the sharp rise in medical, over surgical terminations.Marie Stopes Australia managing director Jamal Hakim said the organisation was still looking to increase services and access for all people, regardless of location. “We have been very clear abortion care in Australia is currently a postcode lottery,” he said, noting the closure of three clinics in Rockhampton, Townsville and Southport in June. At the time, Marie Stopes estimated the closures would mean access to safe abortion care would be compromised for about 500 regionally based people.NED-3269 Gold Coast Download Newsletter Banner“Services for women and pregnant people are disparate across states and territories, with care often falling to not-for-profit healthcare providers with little to no funding for service provision,” Mr Hakim said.“For years, we have been subsidising the chronic underinvestment in abortion and contraception access.” Underfunding by state and federal bodies into sexual and reproductive health meant a telehealth and non-surgical termination clinic presents fewer increasing costs, he said. “The rapid rise in demand for virtual health care services during the coronavirus pandemic was a driver in our decision to establish this hub,” Mr Hakim explained. “We have been in positive funding discussions with the Queensland government about this new hub so we can enable easier and more timely access to abortion care services for Queenslanders, but are still waiting on a decision from them.”Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the state was committed to ensuring women could access “safe and high-quality” termination services wherever they lived. She said many of Queensland’s 16 hospital and health services had referral pathways, including the Gold Coast which contracts with a private provider to perform medical terminations. Surgical terminations are available in Brisbane. “The cost of termination services and associated expenses, such as transport, are covered by hospital and health services for any woman meeting financial and social hardship eligibility criteria,” Ms D’Ath said. “Whatever the circumstances, a healthcare provider or counselling service, and sometimes a GP, can provide women with information and advice to help them understand their rights and the options available to them, including the types of procedure, cost, and nearest services.”Marie Stopes Gold Coast nurse unit manager Emma Perkins said on top of virtual health services, it would provide medical abortion, contraception, vasectomy and STI testing.“We know it’s important to provide people with a choice when it comes to sexual and reproductive healthcare. That’s why we have opted to offer blended services. “We want people on the Gold Coast to know we are here and open for business.”Why Coast women deserve better access to abortionsOPINION: Women of the Gold Coast can finally breathe a sigh of relief, their right to exercise complete bodily autonomy over their reproductive health has partially been restored.Marie Stopes Australia has announced the opening of its new abortion clinic in Varsity Lakes amid the closure of the city’s only surgical practice in June.The catch? The clinic offers only telehealth and in-person consults that exclusively cater to women seeking medical terminations, induced by ingesting two pills, Mifepristone – more commonly known as RU486 – and a second of Misoprostol.The new clinic, also servicing patients nationally, is an undeniable win on improved access for local women in what is already a very shallow pool of options.But red tape is an inevitable factor and that most certainly applies to something as controversial as non-surgical terminations. A woman is prohibited from undertaking a medical or non-surgical abortion who is more than nine weeks pregnant. Doctors don’t even consider women to be eligible for the medication if they’re beyond eight weeks or 63 days gestation.Telehealth appointments for those more regionally based women means they could be deemed ineligible earlier on, as doctors must factor in the length of time it would take for the medication to be delivered to their home. The drawn out process of a medical termination where both pills are taken within a 36-48 hour period – characterised by intense cramps and an undoubtedly traumatic procedure – is certainly not appealing to many. Enduring a medical termination while conscious, witnessing and quite literally feeling the embryo expelled from a uterus is too much for many women to bear. That was the case for myself and a handful of close friends who chose otherwise. Aged just 22, I found myself in the same unfortunate situation that according to Children By Choice one in three women in Australia will experience in their lifetime.While it might be foolish to share my story so publicly given the likely onslaught from pro-lifers, it is a discussion I’m committed to helping move forward, and hopefully, at the very least chip away a fragment of stigma. I was six weeks pregnant to my then-partner after a contraceptive mishap and admittedly, not at all ready to become a mother. The accessibility of Marie Stopes’ Southport clinic – one of three regional Queensland surgical clinics now closed amid rising overheads – meant I was not rushed into making a hasty, life-changing decision. I had the luxury of TIME. I knew almost immediately the choice I would make, even while shellshocked and crying as my GP talked through my options: A surgical termination performed by a doctor or gynaecologist under general anaesthetic as soon as possible. A difficult, emotionally-charged decision – one, which to this day I do not regret but still a cloud of shame looms. It was a decision I ultimately knew was right for my partner and me at the time. Selfishly, I had hopes, dreams, career ambitions that as a young woman in her early twenties did not center around childcare and changing nappies. I wanted to choose how my journey into motherhood would begin and at that time it was most certainly not in the books. The same goes for many of the estimated 10,000 to 14,000 Queensland women, who for their own valid reasons, exercise their right to abortions every year across the public and private sector, according to Children By Choice. As it stands, all that is available for Gold Coast women seeking surgical terminations in Queensland is a costly day trip to Brisbane.Though it might only be an hour up the M1, the logistical nightmare and financial burdens easily pile atop the cost of the procedure, varying between $250 to $4000 depending on gestation and location. NED-3269 Gold Coast Download Newsletter BannerAdded costs of transport and perhaps even accommodation in some cases can render the entire process unattainable for those facing hardship or suffering domestic violence in some form. A caregiver is also required by clinics on the day to consent to the patient’s release after they’ve been sedated. Without them, clinicians can deny women their termination. This itself presents another problem; many caregivers, particularly if a couple, cannot afford to lose out on an entire day’s income. Attending a locally-based clinic on the Coast for an hour or so to collect a patient offers a much more realistic possibility. More importantly, do Gold Coast women not deserve the same opportunity as their Brisbane counterparts to undertake such a gut-wrenching procedure close to the comforts of home?It would be ignorant to place blame on Marie Stopes or any other reproductive healthcare provider though; they’ve long fought for women’s reproductive rights but been relatively underfunded by a state government who in 2018 only just decriminalised the act. Marie Stopes Australia managing director Jamal Hakim said a “chronic underinvestment” by state and federal bodies into sexual and reproductive healthcare rendered surgical clinics like its now-defunct Southport one increasingly difficult to operate.Queensland’s state budget for 2021-22 Investing For Women states “investment in services provided by True Relationships and Reproductive Health will continue, providing Queensland women with access to reproductive, gynaecological and sexual health services.”Though the subsection does not list an exact dollar figure of the state’s investment, it is understood Queensland Health will fund about $6.29m this financial year to the True Relationships and Reproductive Health across its many gynaecology, contraceptive, pregnancy and sexual health services. “We believe it is essential women and pregnant people have a choice when deciding what type of abortion they want,” Mr Hakim said in a glaring acknowledgment of the disparity between regional surgical clinics compared to metropolitan areas. CEO and pro-choice advocate Daile Kelleher also said without access to surgical procedures, the barriers for timely and compassionate abortion care will increase for pregnant women in areas that already find access to healthcare challenging.So, don’t we as women, in what claims to be a progressive society, and with healthcare providers willing to perform the service, not deserve the very right to choose how we act on such a personal decision?With the pro choice debate raging amid vaccine mandates, it begs the question whether the numbers who frequent anti-mandate or “pro-choice” rallies extend that same belief to termination rights. After all, is that not the very crux of their argument? They want the freedom of choice, full control deciding medical procedures concerning their bodies – and so do majority women.Twitter follow Kaitlyn Smith

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