Local women are facing big disadvantages

WELLINGTON Shire women are disadvantaged by a lack of reproductive health information and access to legal terminations, despite young women in the shire having higher rates of unplanned pregnancies than the state average.

The interim findings of a survey being undertaken by Gippsland Women’s Health has highlighted the lack of medical options available locally for Gippsland women, who “disproportionately carry the burden of unwanted or unplanned pregnancy”.

The health service, which commissioned the study to identify gaps in the services available in Gippsland, contacted 11 medical services in the Wellington Shire, but has received responses from only six so far.

Background to the report highlighted barriers for women in Gippsland to finding accurate information and sensitive supports to assist them with reproductive health.

It also noted that teenage pregnancy often resulted in “negative outcomes”, including poverty, substance abuse and reduced engagement with education for young mothers and their babies.

GWH health promotion project worker Anna Roberts said the survey could be used to lobby for better funding of services and education to ensure “all woman have access to the health services they need”.

“What the results so far have told us is that doctors need further training so that these medical services are brought to areas they are needed,” she said.

“The higher pregnancy rates in the Gippsland area support the push for better access to services, and supports the teaching of sexual health education in schools.”

Fertility rates taken from 2015 data show there were 13 children born to every 1000 women aged 15 to 19 living in the Wellington Shire, compared with 9.5 for the state average.

Ms Roberts said the lack of reproductive health services available in Wellington Shire was concerning, because anyone should be able to go to a GP and receive the full suite of health services, without having to travel to Melbourne.

Delay in receiving a termination would likely lead to increased cost, longer recovery times and the need for extended support if they needed to travel to Melbourne.

“Women should have the right to choose if, when, how and with whom they have children,” Ms Roberts said.

Under Victorian law, a health practitioner who has a conscientious objection to providing abortion information must refer women seeking information about abortion services to another doctor who doesn’t object.

The GWH findings are consistent with an earlier report by the University of Melbourne on rural GPs and unintended pregnancies in the Wimmera and Grampians, which found that people in rural areas have poorer health outcomes than their urban counterparts.

People seeking support or information about contraception, pregnancy options and sexual health can phone 1800myoptions (1800 696 784) or visit www.1800myoptions.org.au.