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More funding, uniform law needed to fix abortion access

Abortion laws across Australian jurisdictions must be harmonised to ensure equitable access for all pregnant people, a leading provider says.

A parliamentary committee investigating universal access to reproductive care is examining barriers to contraception services.

Representatives from MSI Australia - a national provider of abortion, contraception and vasectomy services - said various jurisdictional laws and a lack of funding meant access differed depending on where a person lived.

"Sexual and reproductive health funding is too low. Funding services also need to be delivered in a way that is embedded in the health system," managing director Jamal Hakim told the committee on Tuesday

MSI Australia deputy medical director Catriona Melville said a national task force should be established to give oversight of abortion and contraceptive services across Australia.

With differing laws across states and territories, Dr Melville said she supported harmonisation and the Victorian law allowing abortion up to 24 weeks being adopted nationally.

Greens senator Larissa Waters said the party would push for national consistency on abortion laws, provided they were best practice.

"Access to safe, legal abortion remains a postcode lottery in Australia with different rules, costs and availability depending on where you live," she said.

"This inquiry will provide an invaluable insight into the barriers people are facing and how the federal government can intervene to fix them."

The committee heard only two public hospitals in Australia provided staff training opportunities in surgical abortion.

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists fellow Kirsten Black said this was because many public hospitals did not offer the range of abortion services required to enable training opportunities.

"This is why having a quarantined amount of federal money that goes into supporting the development of public hospital services, and also public hospital training pathways for specialists and non-specialists in surgical abortion, is vital," she said.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Nicole Higgins said workforce and training barriers also impacted GPs from providing reproductive healthcare.

"Providing financial support to GPs who want to train in surgical abortion, which is the only option to terminate a pregnancy after nine weeks, should be strongly considered by government," she said.

"Medications for medical termination should be part of the GP doctor's bag to improve access for women."

The committee also heard about barriers to maternity and abortion services in rural areas, partly due to a GP shortage.

Researcher Anna Noonan, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney and SPHERE Centre for Research Excellence, said national data would inform where abortion services were needed most.

"We're hearing people are carrying pregnancies (they) don't feel they can manage and care for to term simply because they cannot get access to abortion services where they need them," Ms Noonan said.

"That is quite extraordinarily unacceptable."

The committee is due to provide a report to the Senate by mid-May.