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Termination of pregnancy: a long way to go in the Northern Territory

To the Editor: The Northern Territory’s reproductive health services are fraught with access problems due to remoteness and disadvantage. Staff shortages and high staff turnover in the health workforce are well known.1 With the recent resignation from the public health system of the main termination of pregnancy provider in the Top End of Australia, women’s access to basic reproductive health services could be severely diminished and complicated.

Each year, about 1000 women undergo a termination of pregnancy in the NT. The only remaining services providing termination of pregnancy in the NT include one private hospital (at which a few doctors can provide surgical abortions) and one public hospital (Alice Springs Hospital, at which a couple of doctors can provide surgical abortions). Each week, about 20 women present to the public health system in Darwin for a surgical abortion in their first trimester. These women no longer have public access. The question is who will provide this procedure?

One possibility is that women may have to be flown interstate for this procedure. Some state laws prevent this — for example, South Australian law has residency limits on the provision of termination of pregnancy. Also, interstate travel poses a considerable burden for women and girls in terms of delays, logistics and increased stress, and is not cost-effective for the health…