Labor launches showdown on abortion
THE coming federal election is looming as a major showdown on abortion with Labor today pledging free, public hospital terminations should it win office.
State governments would have the provision of abortion tied to federal health funding.
The policy is included in what the Opposition says is the first National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy to ensure women get "legal, safe, affordable reproductive health services".
Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek today said a Labor government would improve access to safe, legal ways to end a pregnancy.
"We will support all women to access termination services in public hospitals," Ms Plibersek said.
"For the first time, Commonwealth-State hospital funding agreements will expect that termination services will be provided consistently in public hospitals.
"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia."
No doctors would be forced to perform terminations but Labor will endorse decisions by women, arguing 80 per cent of Australians agree a woman has a right to choose.
And regional health centres could be affected. Their public hospitals would be required to perform terminations, saving women in country towns having to travel long distances.
The policy primarily is aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies - for example through greater access to contraceptives and better sex education - but the abortion element will get the most attention.
Labor knows it is picking a fight on a complex moral question with some premiers and church lobbies but Ms Plibersek today told ABC radio she was determined to go ahead.
"Because it's a really important thing to do," she said.
"I have heard so many stories of women whose health has been compromised... Why do we put women through this today, in 2019? In what is already a phenomenally difficult decision for women, why do we make it so much harder for them?
"It's an important thing for us to change."
Ms Plibersek said the policy was not "an effort to unify abortion laws across Australia. That is very complex work, very time consuming".
"What we're saying is that as a federal government we are a significant funder of hospital services and we would like to see women not have to travel six hours drive or interstate if they need a termination but to be able to have that service in their local community, in their local hospital where their support, their family, their home and do-on are," she said.
But there will be one guaranteed state critic - Tasmania. The state legalised abortion in 2013 but the government has banned them from public hospitals and there is no private clinic, meaning women have had to fly to Victoria or other states for terminations.
A federal Labor government would set up its own termination advice centre in Tasmania.
"This is a very difficult choice for a woman to make," said Ms Plibersek.
"To make it even more difficult by saying you've got to find thousands of dollars of money to go to a private clinic or you've got to go interstate is just not fair at such a difficult time?
The Medicare rebate associated with medical terminations, such as the drug RU486 would be reviewed "to address availability and affordability issues.