The Australian government has come under pressure after doing away with promises to force public hospitals to provide free abortions in return for federal funding, after Labor made the issue central to its health policy in the lead up to the 2019 election.
When pressed on the matter on Wednesday, prime minister Anthony Albanese insisted it was an issue for the states.
“It's a state matter, state matter,” he said Wednesday morning on 3AW. “States control hospitals.”
The Prime Minister’s cold dismissal has come as a shock at a time when abortion access is a globally stringent issue. The United States’ Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade sent shockwaves across international borders, forcing Australians to reckon with their own rights.
While South Australia’s decriminalisation of abortion, which occurred just weeks ago, meant the medical service is now decriminalised nationally, access in many states still remains a “postcode lottery”, subject to the whims of individual hospitals and medical practitioners.
Costs can range widely depending on personal circumstances, including location, visa and Medicare status.
In a statement reacting to Albanese’s comments, Greens spokesperson on Women, Senator Larissa Waters, urged the Prime Minister to rethink his “hasty dismissal” of Labor’s former position.
“Abortions should be available through the public health system, and Albanese has the power to deliver that through using the federal funding lever. He shouldn’t avoid responsibility for it as he sought to do today,” Waters said.
“Access to safe, legal abortion remains a postcode lottery in Australia, with different rules, costs and availability depending on where you live. Some people are having to travel for hours at significant expense to access this basic healthcare service.”
In 2019, Labor promised free abortions as part of a federal election pitch, included in an “abortion package” which would have sidestepped the state control of medical access and forced public hospitals to provide abortion care, contingent on Commonwealth funding.
Labor promised to make abortion care a mandatory requirement within the five-year Commonwealth funding agreements with state hospitals.
The policy was championed by Tanya Plibersek, who said at the time, “Commonwealth-state hospital funding agreements will expect termination services to be provided consistently in public hospitals.”
“This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia”.
Following the Roe v. Wade decision in the US, abortion advocates across Australia have called on the government for better leadership on improving abortion care in Australia.
CEO of Children by Choice, Dale Kelleher, told VICE she was hopeful that Australian governments across the nation would be bolstered by the decision, and that abortion care, rather than being a “political football”, would be treated as health care and embedded into systems so it can’t be removed.
“Because it’s political, it will be something we always need to be aware of and across. But the strongest thing governments can do in terms of leadership in this space is actually ensure they are embedding universal healthcare for termination of pregnancy in our health care systems,” she said.
It seems Anthony Albanese would disagree.
“In this country, we don't control the health system, the states control the health system. They deal with these issues,” he said.
“We're fortunate that, in Australia, we don't have the sort of divisive debate that has occurred in the United States that we've seen playing out. There's a Supreme Court decision on Roe versus Wade, that I think is a very unfortunate decision.”
For people expecting the supposed “government that delivers for women” to actually take leadership when it comes to women’s issues, the Prime Minister’s platitudes simply won’t cut it.