Mifepristone debated in NT Parliament, Health Minister’s concerns criticised as ‘incorrect’

Original story by Katherine Gregory17 March 2016http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-17/nt-parliament-debates-abortion-drug-ru486/7255296The Northern Territory bill to liberalise access to abortion medication mifepristone (still called RU486 in Australia) was adjourned until April because Minister for Health John Elferink argued against remote access to the drug. Women parliamentarians slammed his concerns as “incorrect” and called on the NT Health Minister to listen to the advice of his department and medical experts over an amendment to the RU486 abortion drug bill.The private member’s bill, which would allow Territory women liberal access to the medical abortion drug, was debated in Parliament on Wednesday night, but adjourned until April for further discussion.Independent Delia Lawrie said she rejected Elferink’s late amendments to the bill, which would still restrict Territory women’s access to the drug. “He wants to arbitrarily have powers to determine which clinics [have access] and which [do] not, and I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Ms Lawrie told Parliament.Mr Elferink said his amendments still liberalised access to the drug, but not to the extent Ms Lawrie would like. He argued it would be irresponsible to allow women in remote and regional areas of the Northern Territory access to the pills and claimed incorrectly that expert advice says women have to be close to emergency medical treatment should something go wrong. His amendments would mean the pills could only be taken in hospital and in a clinic environment with oversight from specialists such as gynaecologists and obstetricians, which was not available in many communities. He conceded other jurisdictions in Australia had allowed freer access to the drug, but said they had more accessible emergency medical facilities.Speaker of the House and Independent Kezia Purick introduced the bill last year, and said she believed Mr Elferink’s concerns were incorrect. She echoed the arguments of Ms Lawrie and Labor’s Lynne Walker, who said there were appropriately trained and qualified doctors in remote communities who could deal with side-effects from the drugs. She said she was surprised the Minister for Health did not know what sort of medical professionals and services were permanently based in remote communities. “[Mr Elferink] needs to get some serious briefings from his own department as well as from the AMA, as well as from doctors who are familiar with dealing with this medication,” Ms Purick said.Women’s health specialist and head of lobby group What RU for NT Dr Suzanne Belton agreed Mr Elferink needed to listen to expert medical advice. She said doctors in remote areas managed early miscarriages on a monthly basis, and even unexpected births when necessary. Dr Belton also said the concerns were incorrect on the basis the medication was specifically designed to be taken by women at home, guided by their GP.Dr Belton said it was disingenuous for Mr Elferink to have brought his amendments to Parliament so late, and criticised his decision to designate where in the Northern Territory the drug could be used.”This is something that the health department is quite capable of deciding and not one specific person,” she said. “People in Australia don’t like ministers for health having control of scientific and professional questions when they are not scientists or professionals themselves.”