A prominent health lawyer has called on the NSW government to provide "urgent" funding and support for abortion services in Newcastle following the closure of the Marie Stopes clinic.
The Broadmeadow clinic and four other regional Marie Stopes services in Queensland have now closed, making it "much harder and considerably more expensive for local women to access their right to safe abortions", according to lawyer Catherine Henry.
Marie Stopes has been the largest provider of abortion services in the Hunter region, but Ms Henry said even before now, women had experienced delays in accessing abortions locally.
She said women may now be forced to travel to Sydney for surgical abortions or opt for a medical abortion, which are less popular and can only be done during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, rather than 14. For this to happen, she said GPs needed to be trained and upskilled.
"At present, a lot of abortions are being done by telehealth and this is not desirable," Ms Henry said.
Ms Henry said the government should step in to help fill the gap.
Marie Stopes said in a statement on Tuesday it "did everything" to keep the clinics open. It had earlier said "physical clinics in regional areas are no longer financially viable" and the terms of historical lease agreements had changed and they could not commit to them long term.
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"Access to sexual and reproductive healthcare is vital, particularly in regional and remote areas," the service said. "We will continue to work with health services and governments to build local capacity and improve access for women and pregnant people."
Hunter New England Health (HNEH) said it remained "committed to supporting women and their families who face difficult healthcare choices regarding the continuation of a pregnancy".
"Access to termination of pregnancy services is a shared responsibility by the public health system, private providers, primary care and accredited non-government organisations," a HNEH spokesperson said.
"Alternative reproductive services to Marie Stopes in Newcastle include the Gynaecology Centres Australia Clinic, which provides surgical and medical termination of pregnancy services, and the Newcastle Clinic of Family Planning NSW which provides medical termination of pregnancy."
But Ms Henry pointed out the current NSW Upper House Inquiry into health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW has not included reproductive and sexual health issues in its terms of reference.
"Given the statistics and contemporary attitudes to abortion, I find it quite disturbing that access to abortion services is not being considered," Ms Henry said.
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