Illawarra Women’s Health Centre to raise awareness, funds for women seeking abortion

Illawarra Mercury – Natalie Croxon

As Illawarra women in need of an abortion continue to face barriers accessing the health procedure, a local organisation hopes to cut through the myths and stigma surrounding the issue while raising money to support those in need.

The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre will next month host a live event styled off the ABC show You Can’t Ask That, with a panel of four women – two with lived experience of abortion, two medical professionals – on hand to answer submitted questions about the topic.

The centre’s community liaison and client support manager Miranda Batchelor said the purpose of the event was to break down stereotypes and stigma about abortion, while educating the community on the lack of access to the procedure.

Mrs Batchelor provides non-directive pregnancy options counselling and supports three to five women a day who are seeking an abortion.

But she said there were only about eight GPs in the region who could prescribe the medication required for a medical abortion, which was available up to nine weeks’ gestation.

Most women only discovered they were pregnant at six to seven weeks, Mrs Batchelor said, but it was difficult to get a timely appointment with a GP.

There are also financial barriers, with very few GPs now offering bulk-billing to patients.

Mrs Batchelor said there was one GP who would bulk-bill for abortions and another who went off the woman’s financial situation, but most charged $500 to $600.

After nine weeks’ gestation a woman required a surgical abortion, but Mrs Batchelor said there was only one private clinic in the Illawarra providing this service.

However, the clinic only offered the procedure up to 12 weeks’ gestation – and Mrs Batchelor said their wait time was around three weeks.

Otherwise women have to travel to clinics in Sydney, another cost on top of a procedure that can set a woman back several hundred and sometimes thousands of dollars.

Mrs Batchelor said Wollongong Hospital offered surgical terminations, but women needed to meet certain eligibility criteria and get a GP referral.

Money raised through the centre’s event next month will help women in financial hardship pay for the costs associated with abortion.

Another barrier Mrs Batchelor often comes across are GPs who are conscientious objectors.

She said they were supposed to refer women to other GPs in this case but that was often not happening, and in one case, a GP even incorrectly stated that abortions were illegal.

Mrs Batchelor said the reasons for the stigma surrounding abortion were complex: some people held a patriarchal view of a woman’s role in society, for others it was religious or cultural.

Quite a few of the centre’s clients, she said, were experiencing domestic violence in their relationship and their partners were using reproductive coercion against them.

The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre event will be held at 5.30pm on Wednesday, July 26 at Port Kembla’s Servo Food Truck Bar.

Tickets will be available shortly via the centre’s Facebook page; those unable to attend who want to support the cause can make a donation online.