October 5, 2015 — A new service to provide medication abortion by phone in Australia is seeking out alternative care resources for patients after being unable to meet high demand, the Sydney Morning Herald reports (Corderoy, Sydney Morning Herald, 9/30).
Through the service, women can access medication abortion by calling a 1-800 number. The service coordinates medical testing and have RU 486, which induces abortion, delivered to the patient. The group coordinating the service, the Tabbot Foundation, has established a database of ultrasound services it will use if a physician refers a patient to the service over the phone.
The kit mailed to patients explains the medication it includes, and the information can be given to a physician in the event of complications. In addition, the service provides women access to counseling before and after the abortion. A nurse calls the patient the day after the procedure, and a 24-hour hotline is available. The fee for the service is $250 per procedure, which is less than an abortion at a private clinic, where an abortion typically costs $300 to $600, according to the Tabbot Foundation.
The service is not available in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory or in South Australia, where it would be illegal (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/30).
According to the Morning Herald, Tabbot has received requests from roughly four times the number of individuals it has the capacity to provide services for. Paul Hyland, Tabbot's medical director, said since the organization launched the service, its phone number has received about 50 calls per day and its website received about 1,200 visits per day. Tabbot had expected to treat eight to 10 patients each day.
Hyland said, "Unfortunately, this overwhelming demand has outstripped our capacity to provide care to the number of patients requesting it, whilst maintaining the level of professionalism that our service has set," adding, "Until further notice, in cases where we cannot provide a service to a woman within 48 hours, they will be directed to their closest medical provider, where pregnancy termination services are known to exist."
According to Hyland, Tabbot intends to prioritize women in rural and remote areas, who lack alternative abortion providers.
Reproductive Choice Australia co-president Jenny Ejlak said the high number of calls to Tabbot "should be a wake-up call" to governments that have not implemented policies to reduce unintended pregnancies or to provide access to abortion care, noting, "There are a number of highly effective, evidence-based strategies to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy but federal and state and territory governments consistently fail to act."
Separately, Heather McNamee -- a physician working with a similar organization, Cairns Doctors, which provides medication abortion via Skype -- said her organization likely would not be able to meet Tabbot's excess demand. She also cited a shortage of general practitioners who were trained on long-acting reversible contraceptive (Sydney Morning Herald, 9/30).