Sexual health organisation Marie Stopes is advocating for the government to maintain its temporary Medicare rebate for telehealth consultations to improve abortion access in places such as Wagga.
Marie Stopes has today published a study in an international journal which found its telehealth service, which has been operating since 2015, improved the accessibility and affordability of medical abortions for women in Australia.
A medical abortion involves the drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol, known together as MS 2-Step, which are taken in sequence after being prescribed by a doctor.
Marie Stopes deputy medical director Catriona Melville said most women now found out they were pregnant early, within the nine-week timeframe for having a medical abortion in NSW.
"So a very high percentage of women would be able to [have an abortion] locally, with a medical," she said.
Wagga has 21 GP clinics but only three which are known to be credentialed to prescribe medical abortions, according to figures from the Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network.
Dr Melville said the government's coronavirus-led expansion of Medicare rebates allowed Marie Stopes to "break even" when its medical staff prescribed MS 2-Step through virtual telehealth consultations.
"If [the government] had the restrictions that were on [Medicare] item numbers in the past ... they're basically going to be unusable for delivering medical abortion," she said.
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"We were providing this telehealth service before these temporary item numbers but it makes just a loss making model ... it's not just a quick phone call, there's still all the wraparound care."
Wagga pharmacist Thomas Adamson said his pharmacy at Southcity is the only chemist in town that can promptly fill a script for MS 2-Step. He said he thought access had improved over the past six to 12 months.
"We've been providing medical termination for probably about five or six years now," he said. "We do a fair few each month and the access of it has definitely increased."
With Dr Melville, Mr Adamson presented at a Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network seminar in October last year on medical abortions, to what he described as a "good turnout" of local healthcare practitioners.
Dr Melville said everyone at the seminar had been "very enthusiastic", but not one of Wagga's gynaecologists or obstetricians had attended despite being invited.
"I think the problem is... when you're in the community and you're up against the barriers that exist in Wagga, and in particular the stigma, it is very difficult to counteract that," she said.