Key abortion provider Marie Stopes closes regional clinics in Queensland, NSW


Family planning organisation Marie Stopes Australia says its regional abortion clinics are “no longer financially viable” and will close next month, prompting concerns some women in regional Queensland could have to travel more than 2000km to access services.

Marie Stopes operates the only private clinics offering surgical abortions north of the Sunshine Coast – in Rockhampton and Townsville. The non-profit organisation will also close clinics on the Gold Coast and in Newcastle, New South Wales.

A lack of abortion services has long been an issue in Queensland, where women’s choice advocates have spoken about a “postcode lottery” where some have to travel long distances – and even interstate – to access care.

Daile Kelleher, the chief executive of Children by Choice, says half of the women who contact the organisation for all-options counselling are from remote, rural and regional parts of Queensland.

“The barriers to accessing timely and compassionate abortion care will increase for women and pregnant people in areas that already find access to healthcare challenging,” Kelleher said.

“A pregnant person’s right to abortion care should not be determined by their postcode, or ability to travel. We need leadership from government to support our public healthcare system to address these issues and increase access within communities.”

Queensland decriminalised abortion in 2018. One of the factors that has impactedthe viability of regional abortion clinics has been a decrease in the number of women requiring a surgical abortion since decriminalisation.

Jamal Hakim, the managing director of Marie Stopes Australia, said access to medical abortions – available during the early part of a pregnancy – and their uptake had increased in recent years.

He said the stigma of abortion had also resulted in difficulties recruiting staff in regional areas, and that the organisation had been chartering flights to get doctors from Brisbane to the regions.

“That’s not sustainable, obviously,” Hakim said.

“It has been a really difficult decision. Abortion shouldn’t be a postcode lottery, but this is a decision we’ve had to make.

“We just can’t make these clinics work financially so we’re going to work with government and partners to continue to ensure safe abortion care is available to all, because abortion is a fundamental human right in a modern democracy.”

The closures will leave governments in Queensland and NSW – which both recently decriminalised abortion – to potentially fill gaps left by the departure of private services. Hakim said Queensland had so far been “fantastic” and NSW “terrible” in discussions about how to ensure women have access to services they need.

Kelleher said Children by Choice had reached out to the Queensland government seeking a commitment to continue to provide abortion services in the regions.

“Abortion is healthcare. No Queenslander should have to travel hundreds of kilometres to access healthcare,” she said.

“Marie Stopes’ decision to only provide surgical abortion in Brisbane will impact most heavily on those who already face barriers to accessing healthcare – women experiencing domestic and family violence, coercive control [or] reproductive coercion, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and women with disabilities.”

Children by Choice says public hospitals and health services should embed reproductive healthcare into their basic services.



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