WIMMERA residents have access to a new online abortion service which aims to provide more options for women living in regional areas.
Sydney's Clinic 66 started trialling tele-abortion service Abortion Online last week.
Clinic director Emma Boulton said she hoped it would help fill a gap left by the closure of similar service, Tabbot Foundation, in March.
Dr Boulton said medical abortion by telehealth was a safe and effective option for early-stage pregnancy termination. Medical abortions are only available to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant.
Women's Health Grampians chief executive Marianne Hendron said the service would help fill a gap for women unable to access in-person abortion services.
"We see something like this online service as being a really good option," she said.
"Although setting up an online appointment and waiting for medication is a bit more cumbersome than just going to your GP, it's definitely better than nothing and great for women who don't have the option to see a GP locally.
"Another component to the procedure is the need for ultrasound and have a blood test, which means there needs to be a local provider who can do those things. This new service is by no means a completely online experience, but it does offer another option for our region."
South Australia is the only state or territory where the new service isn't legal. Clients must live within two hours of a hospital emergency department.
Family Planning Victoria says about one-in-three Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
How does the service work?
After a woman has undergone an ultrasound and a blood test, she can be prescribed the two drugs used in a medical abortion. The first drug is Mifepristone, and the second drug taken one to two days later is Misoprostol.
A follow-up consultation is then required to ensure the drugs have worked.
Dr Boulton said there was overwhelming evidence to support its efficacy, however it was not straightforward in about five per cent of cases.
"This is why we have strict suitability testing, and professional consultation and care both before and after the procedure is imperative to ensure both the immediate and long-term health of our client," she said.
"Tele-abortion is particularly suitable for women who cannot access face-to-face abortion care in their local community.
"Our tele-abortion clients meet with highly skilled and experienced abortion care providers remotely by phone or video consultation."
Dr Boulton said her clinic's consultants would guide patients through the process, and if after testing the client is deemed suitable for tele-abortion, they could undergo the procedure in the privacy of their own home.
"Abortion is a straightforward medical intervention, ideally delivered in a community setting. It is a normal part of healthcare, and it is a basic human right to have access to health care services - women deserve the right to determine what happens to their own bodies," she said.
"In Australia, there is a great deal of variation in the legal status of abortion between the states, so access to basic health care services such as abortion becomes a postcode lottery."
Who provides the service?
Dr Boulton said the service was supported by a 24/7 emergency helpline run by MSHealth, which distributes the medication.
"Our clients do need to meet strict suitability criteria, such as being under nine weeks gestation at the time of taking the medication, being over 16 years old and within a two-hour drive of emergency care, to name just a few," she said.
A spokeswoman for the clinic said no Victorian clients had used the service yet.
What is the cost?
Dr Boulton said there was no Medicare or health insurance rebate for the service.
"The tele-abortion consultations will cost $395 in two installments," she said.
"This fee covers the entire medical abortion process - which includes three online consultations, but does not include the cost of investigations such as blood tests, ultrasound or the medication."
Dr Boulton said she hopes to see the service covered, at least partially, by Medicare and health insurance companies to make it more accessible to women.
She said some telehealth sessions, albeit with certain parameters, had recently been put onto the Medicare scheme meaning there was recognition of its effectiveness.
Dr Boulton said more information about the service was available on the clinic's website.
Similar services available
Marie Stopes Australia also offers tele-abortion services to people living in every state or territory, except for South Australia.
People wishing to use the service must provide a blood test and ultrasound prior to a phone consultation with a doctor specialised in medical abortion treatment.
Medication is then sent by courier, which takes one to three days to arrive.
- If you or someone you know needs support regarding abortion services, contact Marie Stopes Australia's aftercare service on 1300 315 664, Family Planning Victoria on 1800 013 952 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
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