In the past eighteen months, two Adelaide centres have ceased offering surgical abortion services. This has, understandably, resulted in considerable concern within the community about the impact of this decision on women who are seeking care and surgical abortions in South Australia.

South Australia was the first state in Australia to legislate access to abortion. Currently, abortion in SA is legal providing two doctors independently agree that a woman’s mental or physical health will be endangered by pregnancy, or if the foetus has a serious abnormality. Abortions that are considered “unlawful” are still a crime and this is currently being debated in Parliament to allow it to be removed from the state’s Crimes Act and instead be regulated by health authorities.

Surgical Abortions in South Australia

As of 2015, the rate of abortion in SA was 13.2 per 1000 women. This rate is a record low and similar to those rates seen in the 1970s and early 1980s; the rate of abortion in teenage women is the lowest recorded since 1970.

Abortion remains an essential women’s health service with current waiting periods for surgical abortion in metropolitan Adelaide ranging from a few days up to a month. The latest data that is publically available shows that in 2016 there were 4,346 abortions in South Australia. 2,462 of these were carried out at the Pregnancy Advisory Centre, while 659 were performed at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Flinders Medical Centre undertook 491 abortions.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital performed just a single abortion in 2016.

Abortion Clinic Closures

In 2018, all abortion services at the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital (which is home to Adelaide’s public obstetric services) were suspended.

Until recently, the main abortion provider in South Australia was the Pregnancy Advisory Centre, located in the suburbs of inner-west Adelaide. This centre was opened in 1992, providing women with confidential and compassionate access to counselling and abortion services.

In January 2019, all surgical abortion services were relocated from the Pregnancy Advisory Centre to Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, due to concern over ageing infrastructure. Initial consultations, counselling, and medical abortion services continue to be offered at the Pregnancy Advisory Centre.

Surgical abortion services are now looking likely to be permanently located at the hospital following completion of its redevelopment. This will require the specialist advisory team to commute between the Pregnancy Advisory Centre and the hospital in order to deliver surgical abortion services.

Ramifications of these Closures

The closure of these two centres in the last year and a half was undertaken without community consultation, and it has had wide ramifications on women as well as on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

From the outset, these combined closures have seen waiting times for women seeking an abortion blow out. This puts a hugely-expanded amount of pressure on the hospital in terms of provision of existing services as well as abortion services.

Health practitioners are also very concerned about the subsequent loss of specialised services for surgical abortion. While the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has added more surgical lists to cope with the increased patient load resulting from now being the default surgical abortion provider in Adelaide, women seeking abortions are not able to be treated as a priority. Additionally, some staff who are inexperienced with dealing with women seeking an abortion may not have the required insight and sensitivity for the unique issues these women experience.

Forcing women to wait for weeks and even months after initially seeking an abortion is traumatic physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Waiting for any medical treatment or surgical procedure is stressful and can be harmful to one’s overall wellbeing. This is no different when it comes to abortion; in fact, waiting for abortion services is among the most stressful medical procedures to be forced to wait on. Abortion itself can be incredibly emotionally-traumatic and waiting compounds this. No matter what the decision is for aborting a pregnancy, blowing out waiting periods will further add to a woman’s distress.

What is even more difficult to understand is that the Pregnancy Advisory Centre and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital have room to deliver this service – and these are the first places women go when they seek abortion services. To refer women onto another centre that is not specifically dedicated to women’s health seems counter-productive at best.

Further options for the Pregnancy Advisory Centre going forward are being considered.

Gynaecology Centres Australia

Gynaecology Centres Australia provides medical and surgical abortion services in NSW and the ACT for unwanted pregnancies, as well as services for miscarriages, women’s health, and male vasectomy. With five clinic locations across NSW we provide women of all ages with full support – the highest standard of medical services with compassion and confidentiality.

For more information on our services including abortion, contact us today.