Introduction by Croakey: About 140 written submissions have been published to a Senate inquiry into universal access to reproductive healthcare, and a series of public hearings have been held in Lismore, Brisbane and Canberra over the past week.
Below is a presentation to the inquiry from Holly Brennan OAM, from the perspective of specialist women’s health services. (Beneath her article see links to further information and related tweets.)
Holly Brennan writes:
I acknowledge that I’m joining this hearing from Turrbal Country. I pay my respect to Elders past and present. Sovereignty has not been ceded.
Central to healing is for a woman is to have control of her own body, including her own sexual and reproductive care. Women’s health is:
- Sexual and reproductive autonomy, rights, care, literacy and education
- Chronic illness prevention and management including reproductive cancer screening
- Mental health, social and emotional wellbeing and psychosocial support
- Safety from health discrimination, including anti-choice judgement and intersecting forms of prejudice.
Women’s health service providers meet the immediate, medium and long term health, healing and recovery of women as they present locally.
Sexual and reproductive health inequities are experienced by all; however, the disparity is in particular experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women living in regional and remote areas, women with disability, migrant and refugee women and LGBTIQ+ people.
These health equity barriers are a frequent occurrence for people on temporary visas, who are not supported by Medicare and face stringent criteria if attempting to access private health insurance.
Throughout the emergencies and challenges that present us, women’s health services continue to respond to women facing complex barriers to abortion and other aspects of sexual and reproductive healthcare.
The reproductive health barriers we experience are interpersonal, structural, and are experienced in every aspect of our lives.
The most persistent barrier to women’s healthcare is cost.
Women in Australia carry the cost of the procedure, the medication, the time off work, the childcare, pads, heat packs, pain relief devices and other health products.
We carry the cost of stigma within families, workplaces and our broader communities.
Universal access to reproductive healthcare is going to take more than an inquiry. It’s more complex than a Medicare Benefits Schedule item number review, or free menstrual health products in schools.
Women in Australia need access to choice.
It is about supporting every aspect of our reproductive lives. We need access to multiple specialists and culturally safe providers. We need the choice of accessing healthcare virtually in our homes, in clinics or on Country. We should have an array of relationships and sexuality education options in schools, universities, workplaces and aged care facilities.
Universal access means embedding reproductive choice throughout our health and hospital systems.
We need a state-based taskforce in Queensland, and a national taskforce on reproductive healthcare.
Taskforces must take the time to strategise for universal access, information and referral mechanisms, public education campaigns, research and data collection, and to prevent reproductive coercion and abuse.
Specialist women’s health services have a highly developed extensive infrastructure of local partnerships, facilities, connections and support.
We have filled sexual and reproductive healthcare gaps for decades.
With ongoing resourcing, support and pathways, women’s health services can be an integral part of longer term universal access solutions.
Holly Brennan OAM has worked in women’s health, prevention of violence against women and children, sexual and reproductive health, child protection, sexuality and respectful relationships education and health promotion for over 25 years.
Holly is currently CEO of the Centre Against Domestic Abuse, a women’s wellbeing hub, as a board member of the Queensland Women’s Health Services Alliance, and the Communications Subcommittee Chair of the Australian Women’s Health Network.
Follow the Senate Inquiry online: check out current and future hearing dates by reading the Committee Hearing Program. Listen online by visiting the Watch Parliament page and select “Senate Committee Community Affairs”, universal access to reproductive healthcare on the list. Note that it is audio broadcast live only and recordings are not available. Visit the Senate Inquiry homepage for further information.
Queensland Senator Larissa Waters has been tweeting some presentations, as below.
Download the submissions here.
See Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on women’s health
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