Somali refugee raped on Nauru brought to Australia for pregnancy termination

Protest in Sydney to end asylum seeker detention: the turnaround in the Somali woman’s situation comes amid growing public and political pressure. Photograph: Richard Ashen/Demotix/Corbis

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A Somali refugee raped on Nauru has been brought to Australia to terminate the resultant pregnancy at her request.

The 23-year-old woman had for several weeks been requesting to be transferred to Australia to abort the pregnancy, but had been refused.

In July, Guardian Australia revealed the government had changed its policy and would no longer fly patients needing advanced medical care to Australia.

However, in the face of growing public and political pressure over the woman’s increasingly critical situation, the government flew her to Brisbane late on Sunday.

The woman could not have the pregnancy terminated anywhere in Australia’s offshore detention network.

According to the UN, abortion is illegal on Nauru except in circumstances to save the life or preserve the health of the mother. There is no clause for the termination of a pregnancy resulting from rape.

In addition, an abortion on Nauru requires the approval of two physicians and the written consent of the woman’s spouse.

On Papua New Guinea, abortion is legal only earlier than 12 weeks into a pregnancy. The woman is understood to be about 14 weeks pregnant.

George Newhouse, special counsel with Shine Lawyers, who is acting for the woman, said she was “relieved that there has been a resolution to this sensitive matter”.

“She is now in Australia and the commonwealth government has agreed to provide her with medical treatment. Our client has asked us to thank concerned Australians for their support and the prime minister and the minister for immigration for their understanding.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and to ensure our client receives the treatment and care she requires.”

The woman has been suffering serious health complaints, which had complicated plans to move her.

Traumatised by the rape, and distressed by the inaction around her solution, she was not eating or drinking, and had reportedly lost more than 10 kilograms.

Last week, opposition leader Bill Shorten had demanded the woman be brought to Australia. On Monday, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who has also been outspoken in support of the woman, said the government should have acted sooner to assist the woman’s “distressing situation”.

“Thankfully, that young woman has been transferred to Australia and she will receive the medical help that she needs.”

In July, a leaked document from International Health and Medical Services – the health services contractor on Nauru – revealed that asylum seekers and refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island would no longer be flown to Australia for advanced medical care.

Instead they would be sent to the Pacific International hospital in the Papua New Guinean capital, Port Moresby.

The policy change was designed to prevent people from taking the opportunity of being on Australian soil to launch legal action to prevent their return to offshore detention.

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, declined to comment specifically on the Somali woman’s case but said on Friday “if people require medical assistance, they will receive it. Whether it is on Nauru or in Australia, they will receive it.”

“But I have been very clear also about the fact that people aren’t going to settle in Australia if they have sought to come by boat. People – at the appropriate time – will return back to Nauru, that is the government’s policy.

“If they can’t receive medical assistance on Nauru or Manus, then we will look at what options are available to them, including coming to Australia.”

Dutton said in certain cases other medical issues had prevented people from travelling. “When the doctors advise us they can, they will then travel.”

No one on Nauru has been arrested or charged over the woman’s rape.

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