Country Profile – Australia

Abortion in Australia is safe and decriminalised in some states; however it remains in the criminal code in some States and Territories. As Australia is a federation of States and Territories, each jurisdiction has its own law which regulates access to termination of pregnancy and specific provisions. Australia is a huge country with a widely dispersed population, and some women find travelling to centres to receive services difficult and expensive. Australian families tend to be small by preference.

It is estimated that Australia that there are 75,000 terminations of pregnancy annually or about 17/1000 women. However Australian data is not complete or not published. For further explanation please see this website
http://www.aph.gov.au/library/Pubs/RB/2004-05/05rb09.htm#intro

General reproductive information :

As the general sexual and reproductive health environment influences women’s attitudes to abortion here are some features of Australia’s population:

  • In 2009, Australia’s total fertility rate was 1.90 babies per woman, a small decrease from 1.96 babies per woman in 2008
  • Fertility rates are highest for women aged 30 to 34 years, recording 124 babies per 1,000 women
  • The median age of all mothers is 30.6 years, while the median age of fathers is 33.0 years
  • The teenage fertility rate is 17 babies per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 years
  • It is conservatively estimated that 1 in 4 women in Australia will have an elective termination of pregnancy at some time during their reproductive life.

Australian families are typically small and there continues to be debate about the size of the desired population. Sex selection is illegal in Australia except in cases of genetic illness. Girls are as welcome as boys in Australian families. There are no unsafe abortions in Australia due to widespread use of modern contraceptives, access to emergency contraception, accessible termination of pregnancy services and a social security system which supports single mothers.

Laws related to Abortion :

There are 8 laws which regulate abortion in Australia at State level. The most liberal State is Victoria and the most restrictive State is Queensland. Australia was colonised by the British in 1888 and all formal law originated from the English legal system including The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 that criminalised the procedure. This law has been reformed in the United Kingdom in 1976. Australian legislation has not kept pace with the British legislative reforms and it remains a criminal offence for a woman, and for any other person who assists her, to procure an abortion in some States of Australia. It is known that, prior to colonisation by the British, Indigenous Australians moderated their fertility by many traditional customs in their local tribes.

As there are multiple laws this diagram is useful in showing the diversity

State-by-state legality of abortion in Australia

  Legal on request

  Legal for maternal life, rape, health, fetal defects, mental health, economic factors, and/or social factors

  Legal for maternal life, rape, health, fetal defects, and/or mental health

  Legal for maternal life, health, and/or mental health

Generally in Australia the laws provide for abortion to be permitted under the following conditions :

  • To save the life of the woman: Yes all states and territories
  • To preserve physical health: Yes all states and territories
  • To preserve mental health: Yes all states and territories
  • To assist survivors of rape or incest: Yes all states and territories
  • To give choice to parents with foetal impairment: Yes all states and territories
  • For economic or social reasons: Western Australia and New South Wales
  • Available on request: Only in Victoria

Practice :

MBBS doctors with postgraduate training or qualifications in gynaecology and obstetrics are designated capable of performing a termination of pregnancy. Surgical and medicated abortions are performed; however medication abortion is not performed in every jurisdiction and is still considered a novel approach in 2013.

Cost :

Australia’s universal health insurance system ‘Medicare’ pays for termination of pregnancies at public hospitals and designated clinics. Private hospitals and clinics charge fees. There is currently legislation before the Australian Federal parliament to subsidise the cost of abortefacient medication with the intention of making this option more readily affordable for women.

Reproductive Rights Perspective :

Although safe abortion access is possible in some public and private hospitals and clinics, it remains criminalised in some jurisdictions and is not necessarily discussed in terms of a health right, despite Australia being a signatory to ICPD and CEDAW with certain reservations.

Public Opinion :

Since, at least, the 1980s opinion polls have shown a majority of Australians support abortion rights. A 2009 study of polls conducted during the lead up to the Australian 2007 Federal election found that a clear majority of both Labor Party and Liberal Party voters support abortion rights. The study also showed that 77% of winning candidates in the 2007 election favored an unrestricted approach to abortion. A 2010 nationally representative study of Australians over 18 years published in The Medical Journal of Australia found that 61 per cent said abortion should be lawful without question for a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy, while 26 per cent said it should be lawful depending on the reason. In the second trimester (12 to 24 weeks), support for outright lawful abortion was 12 per cent, while 57 per cent said it depended on circumstances. For third trimester or late-term abortions, 6 per cent said it should be outright lawful while 42 per cent said it depended on circumstances and 48 per cent said it should be unlawful. [see http://www.lifenews.com/2009/10/05/int-1337/]

Despite this level of popular support there remains a minority pro-life lobby that campaigns actively against elective abortion rights for women on all counts.

Some sources of reliable research :

Understanding Women’s Experiences of Unplanned Pregnancy and Abortion – University of Melbourne (2009)

Report of research carried out by the Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society that audited the records of the Women’s Pregnancy Advisory Service over the course of one year. Interviews were also conducted into women’s perspectives of the experience of dealing with a pregnancy during which they contemplated or underwent an abortion. Further Info

Take me to the external Data Source PDF

Major Report D: Reproductive Health: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health – Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing, University of Newcastle & School of Population Health, University of Queensland (2009)

This report includes the examination of pregnancy outcomes across Surveys 1 to 4 among the cohort of women born between 1973 and 1978. This includes both live births and pregnancy losses (stillbirths, miscarriages, terminations and ectopic pregnancies). Further Info

Take me to the external Data Source

Joyce Alan, Tran B, 2011, Induced Abortions in Western Australia 2006–2009. Statistical series number 90: Report of the Western Australian Abortion Notification System, Department of Health, Perth, WA