AUSTRALIA – Long overdue rule changes for prescribing medical abortion pills came into effect in August 2023

The Therapeutic Goods Administration announced earlier this year that several restrictions around prescribing mifepristone and misoprostol (brand name: MS-2 Step) for medical abortions would be lifted in August 2023.

Previously, only certified doctors could prescribe the medication combination, which were then dispensed by a registered pharmacist. But, under a raft of changes from 1 August:

  • GPs are no longer required to undertake mandatory training and registration every three years to prescribe the pills
  • pharmacies will be able to stock and dispense them, and
  • any healthcare professional with appropriate qualifications, including nurse practitioners, will be able to prescribe MS-2 Step.

This was the first time the regulations had been updated since the pills were introduced more than ten years ago. They are a big step forward in healthcare accessibility for women, especially those living in rural and regional areas of Australia. They will lead to the better integration of MA pills into routine care, which is what patients want, said Monash University General Practice Chair, Professor Danielle Mazza.

Professor Mazza said GPs are well placed to provide the support needed for patients accessing a medical abortion, and are often a first port of call in both metropolitan and rural communities. “It’ll be just like prescribing any other medication in practice and that’s really why medical abortion has been such an innovation for women — because there’s nothing mysterious, or strange, or difficult about being a provider of medical abortion,” she said.

“[Patients] want GPs to be delivering this kind of care, and they turn to GPs for this advice and this care, and GPs are well placed to deliver it. There shouldn’t be any requirements that set abortion apart from any other form of healthcare. The next challenge is really to make sure that all GPs who are undertaking the general practice training program receive excellent training in healthcare so that they can deliver the services that our patients require of us,” she said. “There are six million women of reproductive age in Australia, so GPs have to get it right because we are the workforce to deliver this kind of care.”

SOURCE: RACGP News (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners), by Michelle Wisbey, 11 July 2023


Queensland introduces first Australian law to allow midwives and nurses to prescribe abortion pills

Queensland will become Australia’s first jurisdiction to introduce a law to allow nurses and midwives to dispense abortion pills, in a move intended to improve access in the state’s “huge abortion deserts”. The legislation is hailed as a big step towards providing fairer access to terminations across the state.

In August the Therapeutic Goods Administration scrapped restrictions on the prescription of medical abortion pills, known as MS-2 Step. But it is up to individual jurisdictions to determine the specific healthcare practitioner and the appropriate qualifications for prescribing.

In Queensland, where abortion access has been described as “a postcode lottery”, legislation must be introduced to allow the changes to take place.

A Labor bill will allow Queensland nurses and midwives to prescribe, administer or supply MS-2 Step in the early stages of pregnancy. It is expected to pass, given that the Palaszczuk government holds a parliamentary majority.

A prescription for MS-2 Step in Queensland can currently only be obtained from a doctor. Daile Kelleher, the chief executive of Children by Choice, said Queensland contained “huge abortion deserts” where access to abortion care was severely limited. One woman, for example, had to drive 2.5 hours each way on three different days (total 15 hours) to see a prescribing doctor and get follow-up care to get abortion pills. This obviously makes the pills inaccessible, unaffordable and unobtainable for many. Now, the Queensland government has not only made the commitment to the legislation but also to operationalising it and making sure that in practice, it does actually lead to more health practitioners able to provide this service – the first Australian state to do so.

SOURCE: Guardian Australia, by Eden Gillespie. 30 November 2023


Victoria expands abortion services to more public hospitals to improve accessibility

It has been 15 years since the decriminalisation of abortion and eight years since the introduction of safe access zones around abortion clinics in the state of Victoria, Australia. Unfortunately, for women living in the state, the nearest hospital for having a surgical abortion is out of reach distance-wise.

Victoria’s Health Minister, Mary-Anne Thomas, says Victoria has the most “progressive laws in the nation and a network of metropolitan, regional and rural health services” providing terminations.

Yet, every day, the group 1800 My Options, who provide free advice about reproductive health services, takes calls from distressed women facing hours-long journeys to Melbourne in order to access a surgical abortion – as many as 600 calls each month, with 85% relating to terminations.

Now, the Health Minister will be announcing that three more hospitals – based in Melbourne’s eastern and western suburbs, and in the Mornington Peninsula – will offer surgical abortions.

SOURCE: Guardian Australia, by Benita Kolovos. 28 November 2023