Governments around the world are taking measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including the South Australian state parliament, which passed a COVID-19 emergency response bill last week.
The bill named a new emergency state coordinator and gave him special authority to remove certain medical-related restrictions, including those imposed by what pro-choice activists say are “outdated abortion laws.”
Pro-choice activists are now calling for Police Commissioner Grant Stephens, who serves as state coordinator, to use his newfound powers to make abortion more accessible — namely by allowing doctors to prescribe abortion medication via telehealth appointments.
“These powers could be used to overcome existing legal barriers to abortion care, particularly telehealth services, which allow for early abortion medication and care to be coordinated by a practitioner over the phone,” the liberal Human Rights Law Centre said in a news release.
“The Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Bill is an important step towards safe access to abortion during this crisis period,” Adrianne Walters, associate legal director at the group, said in a statement.
“The State Coordinator should use his powers to override medically unnecessary outdated legal barriers, in particular, the requirements for an abortion to take place in a prescribed hospital, for two doctors to be involved and for a woman to have resided in SA for two months.”
“South Australia’s outdated abortion laws force many women to travel long distances and interact with more health professionals than is medically needed,” Walters added. “The laws were already causing unjustified hardships, especially for women in regional and remote areas, and are now also inconsistent with COVID-19 public health measures.”
“New emergency powers that passed SA Parliament last night should be used urgently to ensure safe access to abortion care for SA women during #Covid_19 pandemic #COVID19au,” Walters tweeted.
The HRLC argued that women who want to obtain an abortion should not have to face the “unnecessary” risk of catching COVID-19 by coming into a clinic.
If the pro-choice activists get their way, women could receive abortion-inducing medication, particularly a drug called RU486, in the mail and take it without having an in-person consultation with a doctor first, pro-lifers say.
Meanwhile, the HRLC is making no secret of its desire to use the coronavirus pandemic to get abortion laws in South Australia changed permanently.
“While steps can, and should, be taken during this crisis period to remove legal barriers to abortion care, this is being done through the grant of extraordinarily broad executive powers,” Walters said.
“These powers are rightly temporary, and should be used proportionately, such as to address critical healthcare matters. Once the COVID-19 emergency has ended, the permanent reform of abortion laws in line with SALRI’s recommendations, should be pursued as a matter of urgency.”
But if politicians take steps to make abortion more accessible during the pandemic, then perhaps they will recognize abortion as an “essential” service, Walters indicated.
“Positive steps have been taken by the Attorney General and politicians across Parliament to end the criminalisation of abortion. The impact of COVID-19 on access to abortion highlights the pressing need for abortion to be decriminalised and finally treated as essential healthcare,” she said.
But Love Adelaide, a nonprofit pro-life organization in Australia, is pushing back, creating a petition to send to Stephens and other government officials.
In a Facebook post, the group argued that the RU486 drug should not be available to obtain through the mail because of the dangers it poses to women.
“The situation is now dire for the health and wellbeing of women of South Australia. There is a strong push happening to have Telemedicine put in place to sell women the Abortion drug RU486. DIY abortions should not be promoted, as they carry many unacceptable risks and complications,” the post said.
“Unsupervised self-administration of RU486 will lead to more hospital admissions due to the known risks of RU486, namely failing to remove the unborn child’s residual body parts, hemorrhaging, high blood pressure, vomiting, cramping and sepsis,” Wendy Francis, a spokeswoman for an advocacy group called the Australian Christian Lobby, added.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as of December 2018, 24 deaths have been reported in association with the drug since it was approved in September 2000.
“No changes to abortion laws should be made unless all of the relevant medical information, research, statistics and implications to womens’ health can be investigated, discussed and decided upon by our elected parliamentarians,” Love Adelaide’s petition reads.
“This is a global pandemic with thousands of lives at risk, and no other actual health-threatening issues are being given this kind of exceptional consideration.”
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