SPEECH TO ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH RESOLUTION
TUESDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2018
Since we last met, Labor state and territory governments have made significant progress on access to sexual and reproductive health care across Australia.
Queensland has decriminalised abortion.
The Northern Territory has amended its laws to enable medical termination of pregnancy and overhauled its abortion laws.
New South Wales has introduced safe access zones to protect patients and staff through a Labor Private Member’s Bill.
The ACT has amended its laws to enable medical termination.
Victoria has introduced a Women’s Reproductive Health Strategy.
And Tasmanian Labor has campaigned on the closure of the state’s only abortion clinic.
But there is clearly more to be done. As my colleague Tanya Plibersek said recently: we have unfinished business on this.
Between 25 and 50 per cent of Australian women experience an unintended pregnancy in their lifetime – one of the highest rates among developed countries.
About 30 per cent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. One in five pregnancies is terminated.
Contraceptive failure is the cause of 70 per cent of unwanted pregnancies. Compared to many similar nations, we have low uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives.
And yet abortion remains a crime in New South Wales, impacting a third of Australian women. And here in South Australia a woman can still be charged for obtaining an “unlawful” abortion.
Elsewhere, a patchwork of inconsistent laws across jurisdictions causes uncertainty and hampers provision of essential health care.
And even where abortion is legal there are significant gaps in access to affordable health care.
Provision of services in the public health system is rare – between 80 and 90 per cent of terminations occur in private clinics, where costs can rise to $800.
Public services are often restricted to major cities – meaning women in regional and remote areas of Australia are particularly disadvantaged.
One in 10 women travel and stay overnight in another city to access services. One in 20 women have to travel interstate.
And two in three women need financial assistance and have to miss paying bills and cut back on food to afford their termination.
Tanya Plibersek and Labor added RU486 to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2013 to address access and affordability issues, particularly for women in rural and remote areas.
But the use of medical termination by women seeking an abortion is low, at approximately 23 per cent. In comparable countries, such as the UK and US, use of medical termination is more than double that.
The draft platform before you sets out our principles on reproductive health.
It commits us to developing a national sexual and reproductive health strategy for all Australians, including reviewing the availability of sexual and reproductive health services.
And it commits us to working with the States to improve the accessibility, legality and affordability of both surgical and medical terminations across Australia, including full decriminalisation and better provision of abortion in public hospitals.
This resolution puts more context and detail around the commitments in the platform.
It makes it clear that we believe legal, safe, affordable and accessible abortion is fundamental to social and economic equality.
It acknowledges the incredible work this year of the Palasczcuk Labor Government in Queensland. But it also calls on all federal, state and territory Labor governments to continue to reduce barriers to reproductive healthcare across the nation.
It sets out our vision for fully funded and universal access to surgical and medical abortion.
And it makes clear that a Shorten Labor Government will use Commonwealth and State funding agreements to secure safe, affordable, accessible abortion across Australia.
I thank Labor for Choice – and its conveners Briony and Grace – for their advocacy around this issue in the lead up to Conference. And I commend this resolution to you all.