This Is What It’s Like To Be The Only Doctor Who Performs Abortions In A Regional Area


There is only one doctor performing surgical abortions in
the 2000km north of Rockhampton, Queensland.

There is only one doctor performing surgical abortions in the 2000km north of Rockhampton, Queensland.

View this image ›

BuzzFeed News

ID: 10644078

“I am in a privileged position of having a skill set that
allows me to actually step up and do something about something
I really care about,” Grace* told BuzzFeed News.

“I believe it is a basic human right that women should be able
to access abortion and contraceptive services.”

Grace works at Townsville’s Marie Stopes International clinic,
which can only afford to open three days a month.

“This practice has been running at a loss for a few years, but
we’ve stayed open because what we do is so important,” she
said.

“The population of Townsville is around 230,000, and 117,000 of
those people are women. The median age is 34. Do the math.”

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Marie Stopes International
clinic in Townsville. Gina
Rushton/BuzzFeed News

ID: 10643546

Last year the clinic
almost shut down, as did its sister clinic in Rockhampton,
Queensland, however Marie Stopes International is in talks with
the state government about funding.

It is the only termination service for women with unwanted
pregnancies who live in the hundreds of communities dotted
across the hundreds of thousands of square kilometres covering
rural, regional and remote northern Queensland.

“There are no services in Cairns at the moment and so there is
only Rockhampton and us and then Brisbane,” she said.

Half of Grace’s patients travelled a minimum of two hours to
see her and almost a fifth had travelled for more than eight
hours, she said.

“It can be an eight hour drive to get to a regional centre, and
the cost is prohibitive for a lot of women. Depending on their
gestation it is about $800 [on average] just for the
procedure.”

Grace recently saw a patient who had been assessed in
Cairns, where abortion services have been closed.

Grace recently saw a patient who had been assessed in Cairns, where abortion services have been closed.

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Marie Stopes International
clinic in Townsville. Gina
Rushton/BuzzFeed News

ID: 10643621

“She was of an Indigenous background and already had seven
children,” she said.

Charities raised funds for the woman to fly to see Grace in
Townsville for a surgical termination.

“We found she was at 17 weeks, which was two weeks ahead of the
level of service we can provide, and so the next step was to
try and send her to the Gold Coast,” Grace said.

“She had seven children who were in the care of someone else,
and she’s had to find the funding to get to Townsville and to
pay for the termination, and then we’ve told her she has to go
to the Gold Coast. So she just said, ‘I guess I’m having
another baby then’.”

Abortion remains in the state’s criminal code and is only
lawful to “prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical
or mental health”.

Abortion remains in the state's criminal code and is only lawful to “prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health”.

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Marie Stopes International
clinic in Townsville. Gina
Rushton/BuzzFeed News

ID: 10643629

Two bills to decriminalise abortion in Queensland were
withdrawn last week by independent Cairns MP Rob Pyne when
it
became clear they would not pass parliament.

“The fact that [abortion] is a criminal act is despicable,”
Grace said. “But I feel that if that is the framework I have to
work in, then I will do so.”

Decriminalisation, she said, would “send a message” that women
have the right to have “control over their own bodies and
fertility”. It would also mean public health institutions would
no longer be able to rely so heavily on private clinics to
provide abortions.

Some of Grace’s patients had been turned away from hospitals
and refused a termination.

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Marie Stopes International
clinic in Townsville. Gina
Rushton/BuzzFeed News

ID: 10643630

“In regional centres, hospitals run their departments as
mini-fiefdoms, so they can do what they like, but at the end of
the day abortion is criminal and they’re not going to put their
licences on the line,” she said.

“The local hospital in Townsville is prepared to do an abortion
after 20 weeks only for fetal anomalies; for any other reason
the woman would have to fly [more than 1,400km] to the Gold
Coast.”

After years of seeing patients in abusive relationships, Grace
believes the “easiest way to control a woman” is to restrict
her access to contraception.

“There are a lot of women whose partners have forbidden them
from using contraception, so they won’t get [a contraceptive
implant] in case he sees it, or they will ask for an
[intrauterine device] but ask for the strings to be cut really
short so there is no way that he can see it during sex,” she
said.

Grace is not “pro-termination” but “pro-choice”.

“It is not nice what I do, and no-one talks about it over the
dinner table; in fact, half the people I know don’t know what I
do because I don’t talk about it.”

As a Christian she doesn’t “have a problem dealing directly
with my God in relation to what I do, because I believe that
every child that comes into the world should be wanted and
cared for and loved”.

Pro-choice counselling service Children by Choice raised
almost $20,000 from 2013 to 2016 for women in Townsville
who needed help paying for their abortions.

Pro-choice counselling service Children by Choice raised almost $20,000 from 2013 to 2016 for women in Townsville who needed help paying for their abortions.

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Children by Choice/Supplied

ID: 10644017

Of the women who required financial assistance, 42% had
experienced domestic and/or sexual violence.

Townsville Women’s Centre manager Cathy Crawford sees “women
experiencing or escaping violence every day”, some of whom need
assistance to access an abortion.

“It could be as a result of sexual assault, or a domestic
violence situation, or just a woman who can’t have a child at
this point in time and is under-resourced,” Crawford told
BuzzFeed News.

Crawford said her overworked counsellors were spending valuable
time trying to finance terminations.

“Women will say, ‘If I don’t pay rent for two weeks I can have
a termination’, but they’d be homeless in two weeks.”

She said Queensland hospitals were “more likely to take a woman
who is very young, or [in a] severe domestic violence or sexual
assault case.”

*Name changed for privacy reasons.



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