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Indigenous Women’s Health Jeopardised in the Name of Progress

Last month abortion drug RU486 was legalized in the Northern Territory – all in the name of ‘progress’. This so-called progress, however, was not met with enthusiasm from indigenous women in the Territory. Rosalie Monks, a senior Aboriginal woman stated, “I want to object to any of our tribal indigenous women being made to take that pill. It is not part of our culture.” She states that the indigenous communities were alarmed to hear of the legalization of this drug. “We don’t even have a word for abortion,” she says.

The abortion drug RU486 is taken in two doses, one at the clinic and the second dose at home but for remote communities the possibility for telephone assessment of women and postage of the abortion pills has been raised. One large Finnish study of over 42,000 post-abortive women found a fourfold increased risk of adverse effects in medical compared to surgical abortions (20.0% vs 5.6%) with the highest risks being that of hemorrhage (15.6% vs 2.1%) and incomplete abortion (6.7% vs 1.6%), which has a significant risk of sepsis. Rosalie Monks says that Aboriginal girls “do not understand the implications of what is being given to them” and are unlikely to follow up health care matters at the clinic. This is hardly comforting considering that the drug could prove fatal – and that in many areas medical staff are scarce. 

It would seem that the desire to “take abortion out of the hospitals…” and “to give women more control” only endangers the lives of indigenous women. Surely this cannot be ‘progress’?

Cover image attributed to Flickr user richardfisher, modified to adjust colour and to crop.