Marie Stope Australia is searching for "brave philanthropists" to bankroll a $3 million fund for women struggling to afford abortion and contraception.
The not-for-profit plans to use its new tax-deductible gift recipient status to set up two separate funds to pay for pregnancy terminations and contraceptive services for women in financial hardship who can't pay for private clinics.
Abortion is a crime in NSW and only permitted when a doctor deems a woman's physical and/or mental health is in serious danger if her pregnancy continues.
Publicly funded abortion services are not available in NSW, Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania. Limited services are available in other states and territories including a handful of public hospitals in Victoria.
Marie Stopes Australia hopes its fund will also cover transport and accommodation costs, particularly for women in rural and remote areas where services are scarcest.
Its contraception fund would target women queuing on often lengthy public hospital waiting lists for long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs).
Chief executive Michelle Thompson said the organisation was searching for pro-choice backers committed to universal access to reproductive services and addressing inequality in Australia's healthcare system.
"We want to work with innovative, brave philanthropists and foundations to remove the financial barriers to contraception and abortion," she said.
Ms Thompson said she was expecting the usual backlash against moves to improve access to abortion.
"But it's about giving women choices ??? women who are in abusive relationships, a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy who wants to go on to complete her studies, or a mother who struggles to support her family."
Dr Philip Goldstone treats patients who have overcome immense pressures to access reproductive services at his clinic in Westmead.
"We know poorly educated or women from [lower socio economic backgrounds] are disproportionately affected by unplanned pregnancy," said Dr Goldstone, the medical director at Marie Stopes Australia.
"These are the women who have the largest barriers to access our services."
Dr Philip Goldstone treats women who have overcome immense pressures to access abortion. Photo: supplied
The average cost of a medical or surgical termination in Australia is $500.
"This is a vast amount of money for a lot of women, and often an unexpected cost that you don't have a lot of time to save for," Dr Goldstone said.
Eloise Noske said she knew she was one of the lucky few who got an abortion through the public system.
The 23-year-old spent several weeks considering her options, talking to a counsellor and her family.
"I've always been a maternal person and there was a lot of grief for a potential child I was saying no to," she said.
"Once I'd made the decision I sat with it for about a week. I wanted to make sure it was right for me and not for anyone else."
The university student living on a youth allowance in Melbourne was referred to The Royal Women's Hospital.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do and I can't imagine how I would have coped with the added stress of worrying about how I would pay for it," she said.
Had Ms Noske been living in her rural Victorian hometown her options would have been limited.
"I would have had to pay for travel and the cost of an abortion at a private clinic. My GP was a good family friend so it would have been difficult to do it without the fear of judgment," she said.
Marie Stopes Australia is also planning to set up a third fund to support reproductive health research and education, particularly the uptake of LARCs.
Ann Brassil, chief executive of the independent, government-funded Family Planning NSW (FPNSW) said she welcomed all measures to improve access to reproductive and sexual health services for people in NSW.
"Good public healthcare needs to be comprehensive and available when people need it, without the cost barriers that currently exist," Associate Professor Brassil said.
FPNSW research showed there were gaps in available reproductive services, particularly for people in culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
The independent organisation sees more than 15,000 people every year for reproductive and sexual health care. Professor Brassil said one-third of these services were provided free across five clinics and up to 40 per cent of patients at some of our clinics were not charged.
The Tabbot Foundation offers over-the-phone abortion services to Australian women at low cost, allowing them to avoid potential stigma and judgment held by some healthcare professionals and anti-abortion protesters at family planning clinics.
Women who use the service call a 1800 number and are referred for an ultrasound and blood test. They are then assessed over the phone by a gynaecologist or GP with family planning experience and, if necessary under state law, a clinical psychologist.
For an out-of-pocket cost of $250, patients are mailed the abortion medications mifepristone and misoprostol as well as antibiotics, analgesics and anti-nausea medicines.
Abortion laws across Australia
NSW & Queensland: A crime for women and doctors. Only legal when doctor believes a woman's physical and/or mental health is in serious danger. In NSW, social, economic and medical factors fall under "mental health".
SA: The first Australian state to legalise in 1969. Two doctors must agree that a woman's physical and/or mental health is endangered, or for serious fetal abnormality.
NT: Legalised in 1974 up to 14 weeks if two doctors agree that woman's physical and/or mental health is endangered, or for serious fetal abnormality.
WA: Legalised in 1998 up to 20 weeks. Very restricted after 20 weeks.
ACT: Decriminalised in 2002. Must be provided by medical doctor.
Victoria: Decriminalised in 2008. Legal up to 24 weeks. Post-24 weeks two doctors must approve.
Tasmania: Decriminalised in 2013. Legal up to 16 weeks. Over 16 weeks requires the approval of two doctors.
Publicly funded abortion services across states and territories
NSW, QLD, ACT & Tasmania: No public provision unless a woman is at risk of serious medical complications.
SA: Abortion provided through some hospitals and Pregnancy Advisory Centre but no clinics.
WA: A limited amount of public services and increasing slightly.
Victoria: A handful public hospitals offer abortion services but access is limited.
NT: Some access to services, particularly medical abortion.
Tasmania: Limited availability via private clinics.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Marie Stopes Australia was the only supplier of medical abortion in Australia. MS Health, a pharmaceutical company and subsidiary of Marie Stopes International is the only importer of the medication used for medical abortion.
The story Search for 'brave' philanthropists to fund abortions first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.