Women will have access to abortion medication over the phone from today, when the government rolls out the new national telemedicine service.
The phone hotline will provide clinical consultations for early medical abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, make referrals for pre-abortion tests, and send out medications.
The service – [ https://www.decide.org.nz] Decide – was introduced by the Ministry of Health in three phases; offering referrals and information about abortion services since April, follow-up care and counselling since July, and telemedicine from today.
Telehealth services would be hugely beneficial for those who live remotely or were in financial hardship, Terry Bellamak from Abortion Rights Aotearoa said.
Before now there were “horror stories of terrible hardship” from people who struggled to access abortion services, she said.
“The long distances that people have had to travel from remote areas, that has always been a huge problem and it made abortion in New Zealand a postcode lottery.
“Distance really created barriers people for without transportation, or without childcare, or who couldn’t get time off work, or who just couldn’t get the money together for a hotel stay that would sometimes be required, say, if you’re from the West Coast and you have to go to Christchurch.”
The new service would also mean people would not need to worry about privacy and safety, Bellamak said, with medication being delivered to the door.
“It just takes the whole harassment thing right out of the question,” she said.
“The flexibility is going to be beneficial for people who care or employment responsibilities and just people who live in rural or remote areas,” Abortion Rights Aotearoa president Tracy Morrison said.
Also from today, the medication mifepristone (also known as Mifegyne) – used for early medical abortion – will be available as a subsidised prescription medicine.
It means people can pick it up from their local pharmacy, instead of again having to travel to a hospital or a clinic.
The changes are part of wider improvements in abortion provision, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
“Everyone should be able to access abortion information and care when they need it,” it said.
“While in-person care will always be offered, this service provides other options.
“Telehealth makes it easier for people to reach the services and support that already exist, particularly for those who find it difficult to visit a doctor or clinic.”
Decide would also assure health practitioners that their patients have additional sources of support, the Ministry of Health said.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz