The recently elected Northern Territory Labor Government need to consider the detrimental ramifications to women’s health of removing all abortion safeguards.

The Northern Territory has previously taken the approach that any termination should take place in a public hospital where women can be appropriately cared for.  Changing this is clearly not ‘an important step in modernising’ as enunciated by the Minister.

Last week NT Health Minister, Natasha Fyles called for discussion into:

  • Removing the safeguard of abortion procedures needing to take place in the safety of a hospital.
  • Providing the pesticide drug RU486 for use in ‘out-of-hospital’ settings.
  • Removing the right of doctors and nurses and other health professionals to conscientiously object to providing, or referring, a woman to have an abortion.
  • Removing the constitutional right to voice concern regarding the ethics of abortion.
  • Removing safeguards for women who may be pressured by a partner or family member to have an abortion.

The current safeguards are in place to protect women and removing them will be clearly detrimental to their health.

If these changes pass the Northern Territory parliament, those who do not support abortion will have their freedom of conscience trampled upon by making them complicit in abortion. No government should ever force those who do not agree with abortion to participate in it.

The proposed legislative changes ignore the human rights of the unborn and the adverse effects abortion has on women particularly with the health consequences of the RU486 chemical.

Surely, it is the duty of our governments to protect the most vulnerable and to protect women from potential harm.

Offering young women, many of whom live in rural communities a long way from any hospital emergency department, the human pesticide, RU486, puts women in harm’s way.

RU486 is often sold as a simple pill that offers women a much easier way to procure an abortion than surgery giving the impression it is not much different than taking an aspirin.

It is understandable that many people would prefer medical to surgical treatment in other areas of their health and so make the same assumption about abortion choices.

However, RU486 is not the easier method of abortion it is made out to be.

It requires multiple visits to a doctor and the administration of two drugs over several days causing powerful contractions endured without an aesthesia.

The prolonged abortion is a lonely, painful experience that takes place away from medical supervision.

The remains of the child may be visible to the woman who must then suffer the additional trauma of packaging up the dead foetus for disposal by the clinic.

Bleeding continues for a further two to three weeks.

In an Australian study of RU486, many women reported haemorrhage (severe uterine bleeding) with some of those women requiring a blood transfusion.[i]

832 reports of adverse events as a result of taking RU486 had been provided to the TGA between April 2006 and 25 June 2012.[ii]

A recent Australian study of over 1000 abortions performed this way showed that 1 in every 18 patients who used RU486 had to be re-admitted to hospitals.  The same study revealed that as many as 33 per cent of women who had second trimester RU486 abortions required some form of surgical intervention.[iii]

On any medical measure this is an unacceptably high failure rate, not least when it puts a woman’s life in danger.

Without this emergency surgical abortion, the presence of a dead baby in the womb puts the mother at risk of septic infection, lower abdominal pain, fever, nausea and death.

Northern Territory parliamentarians would be aware the risk of inadequate follow-ups and women using the RU486 drug far away from any medical help would be significantly higher

Northern Territory parliamentarians would know this is particularly of concern in the Territory where remote communities compound the potential serious ramification of complications.

There is another way to deal with unwanted or unplanned pregnancies that provides better solutions than RU486 proponents promise.

As a society, we need to do everything possible to ensure that women are not forced to choose abortion against their better judgement because they perceive a lack of societal support.

Pro-choice and pro-life advocates agree that more must be done to support women who would much rather keep their baby than abort it.  So let’s start.

Women facing unsupported pregnancies should be offered real support – not a removal of all support, and the supply of a chemical which is harmful to both them and their unborn child.


[iii] Mifepristone in South Australia (2011) Mifepristone in South Australia The First 1343 Tablets Australian Family Physician Vol 40 No. 5, May 2011. Ea Mulligan, Hayley Messenger.