Impact of legislative change on waiting time for women accessing surgical abortion services in a rural hospital in the Northern Territory

Suzanne Belton, Georgia McQueen, Edwina Ali

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: Women face challenges when accessing abortion, including varied legislation and reduced access to services in rural and remote settings. There are limited clinical guidelines in Australia and little information regarding the patient journey, particularly the timeframe between referral to abortion procedure. Legislation reform in the Northern Territory (NT) legalised early medical abortion (EMA) in primary health care, providing an opportunity to review service provision of elective surgical abortion prior to and after these changes. 

    Aims: To review the waiting time to access abortion, percentage eligible for EMA based on ultrasound gestation alone, percentage of Indigenous women accessing abortion in the NT and the effects of the legislation change. 

    Materials and Methods: Retrospective audit-analysed surgical abortion data from 354 patient files who underwent suction curettage of uterus between 2012–2017 in one NT public hospital. 

    Results: Mean wait-time ranged from 20 to 22 days in 2012–2016 and dropped to 15 days in 2017 following the law reform. Sixty-two percent of women waited longer than that in the recommended clinical guidelines. Indigenous women represented approximately 25% of patients accessing surgical abortion services. Average gestation at surgical abortion procedure increased following reform. Prior to reform up to 95% of patients accessing surgical abortion would have been eligible for EMA at time of referral. 

    Conclusions: Results demonstrate potential for changes in service provision of abortion in the NT with increased choice, patient-centred care and reduced waiting times. This audit demonstrated the possibility to move the majority of abortion services into primary health care leading to cost savings.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)459-464
    Number of pages6
    JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
    Issue number3
    Early online date8 Jan 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


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