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Doctors claim illegal trade in abortion drugs -

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ELEANOR HALL: The President of the Australian College of Obstetricians has renewed the call for
abortion to be decriminalised throughout Australia.

Some obstetricians say they are disturbed that young women are performing home abortions using
illegally sourced drugs.

A Cairns based doctor says there's evidence that Australian women are purchasing an abortion drug
on the black market.

Bronwyn Herbert reports.

BRONWYN HERBERT: For many women, attending an abortion clinic is unaffordable or out of reach.

So increasingly it seems some women are turning to what's known as a "medical" abortion.

In others words, terminating a pregnancy by drugs rather than by surgery.

And the obstetrician Caroline de Costa says many of them are illegally buying a drug to induce
their own abortions at home.

CAROLINE DE COSTA: The drug misoprostal, which is legally available for a number of reasons in
Australia, is also being used undercover or covertly by some women for procuring an abortion for
themselves in Australia.

I think this is probably most common amongst some immigrant women from China and from southeast
Asia, where the drug is widely used in this way anyway.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Caroline de Costa is a professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at James Cook
University's School of Medicine in Cairns.

She's an advocate of medical abortions carried out under a doctor's supervision.

Dr de Costa says it's disturbing to hear of women purchasing the drug illegally.

CAROLINE DE COSTA: I'm aware of anecdotal evidence that this is happening, I've spoken to
colleagues who have also mentioned that they have come across cases. We know that it is easy to
access the drug on the internet, it is sold in Australia and prescribed in Australia for other
purposes, so it can be, I guess illegally accessed that way.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Medical abortions are available in many Western countries including the US, Sweden
and New Zealand.

But not in Australia, unless you visit one of a handful of gynaecologists.

Dr Edith Weisberg is the director of research at Family Planning New South Wales and a senior
clinical lecturer at Sydney University.

DR EDITH WEISBERG: I think the problem is that Australia is one of the few Western countries which
doesn't have medical abortion available as an option for women needing an abortion.

Another drug used for medical abortions is RU486.

Dr Weisberg says it's concerning to hear that some women in Queensland have also been illegally
sourcing this drug.

EDITH WEISBERG: The problem is that first of all we don't know where they're sourcing it from and
how good the product is, that's the first thing. And the second thing is that RU486 used as an
abortofacient is only about 85 per cent effective if you use it by yourself, so these women may in
fact have incomplete abortions and need surgical evacuation of their uterus afterwards.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Ted Weaver is the president of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians.

TED WEAVER: We think that if people have to resort to sort of backyard approaches for doing these
things then we think that's probably not a good idea. There's a potential for harm for women, these
drugs aren't without risk and that whatever the rights and wrongs of abortion we think that women,
if they choose to do this, should be able to access a safe service.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Dr Weaver says abortion needs to be decriminalised nationwide.

TED WEAVER: There needs to be legislative certainty for doctors that they won't be prosecuted for
performing abortions if that's what they want to do, and that women shouldn't be prosecuted for
trying to access one, if that's also what they want to do. So we need to take it out of the
criminal code essentially.

Some states have enacted law reform, I mean, Victoria has and South Australia has, but in
Queensland abortion is still contained within the criminal code and the college's position would be
that it should be taken out of the criminal code and that if people want to access that service,
and that's their business, then those services should be provided in a safe way.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr Ted Weaver from the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians, speaking to
Bronwyn Herbert.