The resignation of the Northern Territory's main termination of pregnancy provider has led to a call for major reforms to the NT's Medical Services Act, published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Suzanne Belton, from the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, and her coauthors wrote that termination services in the NT were now reduced to one private hospital (at which a few doctors can provide surgical abortions) and one public hospital (in Alice Springs, at which a couple of doctors can provide surgical abortions).
With around 20 women presenting for a surgical abortion during their first trimester in Darwin every week, the lack of public access is now a real problem, the authors wrote.
"One possibility is that women may have to be flown interstate for this procedure", they wrote. Apart from the burden placed on women logistically by this process, it is also not cost-effective for the health care system, and in some states - South Australia, for example - there are residency limits on the provision of abortions.
Instead, the authors suggest reforming the Medical Services Act (NT), which only permits surgical abortions, to allow early medical abortions using misoprostol and mifepristone outside of hospital settings, which would allow GPs to provide information and prescriptions.
"There is overwhelming medical evidence showing that early medical abortions are efficacious, safe and well accepted", the authors wrote.
"In terms, of the health system, shifting the task to GPs and freeing up precious theatre resources would be far more cost-effective than flying patients or doctors interstate.
"However, the political reality is that politicians are often reluctant to step into the perceived controversy of reproductive health rights for their constituents."