Facts

Surgical Abortion
Medical Abortion
Delayed Presentation for Abortion
Counselling
Public Opinion
Religion and Choice
Australian Law
Australian Service Provision
Conscientious Objection
Abortion Rates
Contraception
Victorian Law Reform Commission Inquiry
Victorian Parliamentary Vote

Surgical Abortion

Surgical abortion uses gentle suction to remove the pregnancy from the uterus. It is generally performed under some form of anaesthetic and is a safe, simple and modern procedure with a low risk of complication. The World Health Organisation describes abortion - by either surgical or medical means - as "one of the safest medical procedures".

Further information regarding surgical abortion services in Victoria can be found at the
Better Health Channel website.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist has prepared a resource document for health professionals, summarising current medical evidence and reference material about methods of termination of pregnancy prior to 20 weeks gestation. The Termination of Pregnancy publication can be downloaded from the RANZCOG website.


Medical Abortion

Medical abortion is a non-surgical procedure and an option for women with pregnancies that are under seven weeks gestation.

Medical abortion allows women to terminate an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy at an earlier gestational stage than surgical abortion and requires no anaesthesia.

The ideal way to perform a medical abortion is to use RU486 (mifepristone) with a prostaglandin like misoprostol. However, this method remains unavailable in Australia. Reproductive Choice Australia provided information to MPs during the campaign to lift legal restrictions on RU486 being evaluated for use in Australia.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states that 'there is a substantial body of literature establishing the safety and efficacy' of the RU486 plus prostaglandin regime. The World Health Organisation describes abortion - by either surgical or medical means - as 'one of the safest medical procedures'. In 2005, it placed RU486 on its list of "essential medicines".

For information on the safety of medical abortion and responses to common myths about terminating using RU486, see the Reproductive Choice Australia booklet
RU486 (Mifepristone): a factual guide to the Australian debate (.pdf document 1.12MB).

In the absence of RU486, an alternative method available for Australian women to procure a medical abortion is using a methotrexate-misoprostol regimen. For more information on medical abortion using methotrexate, visit Marie Stopes International.


Delayed Presentation for Abortion

Women may be delayed in presenting for abortion for a number of reasons. These include diagnosis of fetal abnormality in a wanted pregnancy, difficulty in accessing abortion, failure to recognise the pregnancy earlier (often due to extreme immaturity or maturity, mental disability, or incompetent medical care) or catastrophic changes in personal circumstances (including death or serious illness of partner or child, loss of a job, partner violence or desertion).

In 2004, 220 terminations post 20 weeks took place, 115 of which were for congenital abnormalities, indicating that over half of abortions beyond 20 weeks are wanted pregnancies terminated because of fetal abnormalities. (Consultative Council on Obstetrics and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity Services (2004). Annual Report. Department of Human Services, Victorian Government).

Women's Health Victoria explains why women are delayed in presenting for abortion, and the facts surrounding termination at this stage, in a their
Termination of Pregnancy Post 20 Weeks Background Paper (.pdf document 65 KB).

Denying the tiny numbers of women who wish to terminate at later stages of gestation access to the procedure is not a recipe for happy families, but for distressed and disturbed women and at risk children. Currently, in Western Australia , women requesting termination past 20 weeks are referred to a committee, which either grants their request, or denies them access to the procedure. The results of this regimen, according to an official report on the workings of the law, have been: 

  • women and couples feeling pressured to make a quick rather than considered decision when a negative fetal diagnosis occurred just prior to 20 weeks lest they lose control after 20 weeks of the choice.
  • women and couples feeling pressured to terminate even in the face of medical advice to "wait and see" for fear of being denied a termination by the panel after 20 weeks if the fetal diagnosis remained poor.
  • women and couples feeling    a diminished sense of personal control in making important life decisions
  • women/couples who are denied a termination feeling unique issues of guilt and grief associated with being compelled to continue a pregnancy but having conflicted feelings about using counselling services to resolve such issues at the institution that denied them the abortion 
  • women/couples and medical professionals feeling    concerned about the objectivity of the panel decision and of having their choice judged by its unknown members
  • experts caring for women/couples expressing concern about the risk of self-harm and failure to bond with the baby faced by women denied an abortion. 

Read the Western Australia Department of Health and Department of Justice's Review of the Amendments (.pdf document 369 KB).

Concern about compelling women to give birth to unwanted children appear justified. The literature documents the high costs to women and children born after a request for abortion was made and was denied. For a summary of these risks see When Pregnancies are Unwanted by Nancy Felipe Russo and Henry P. David.


Counselling

Most women talk to friends, family, their partner and/or doctor before undertaking a termination. In a recent survey by Marie Stopes International, three out of four women said they did not want professional counselling before having a termination.

What 81% of women who did want counselling said they wanted was balanced information about, and referrals for, all three options: pregnancy, abortion, adoption and parenting. Pro-life counselling does not refer for abortion, though deceptive advertising practices may make it difficult for women to know that the agency they have called is pro-life and will not help her to find an abortion provider, even if she requests this assistance.

Post-abortion stress is not a recognised psychological condition and, to date, there is  no evidence that induced abortion poses a higher risk to women's mental health when compared to other resolutions to unwanted pregnancy: adoption and the parenting of an unwanted child. Should this change, Pro Choice Vic would support the updating of the information disclosed to women prior to their consenting to an abortion.

In 2005, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reviewed the evidence on the psychological impact of abortion and concluded that "Psychological studies suggest that there is mainly improvement in psychological wellbeing in the short term after termination of pregnancy [and that] there are rarely immediate or lasting negative consequences". Read the RANZCOG report
Termination of Pregnancy: a resource for health professionals (.pdf document 193 KB).

For a summary of the extensive research findings in the area of mental health and abortion see Abortion, Informed Consent, and Mental Health by Nancy Felipe Russo and Lisa Rubin. A summary of the scientific research in this area can also be found in an article on post-abortion issue on the National Abortion Federation website.

Counselling should never be mandatory. Pregnancy counselling, like other forms of counselling, is ineffective unless the patient wants the service. Compelling a woman or couple who are clear about her/their decision to undergo counselling undermines her/their dignity and is a waste of tax-payer resources.

For more information, read Marie Stopes International's study What Women Want When Faced With an Unplanned Pregnancy.

For information on what an unbiased pregnancy counselling service provides visit Children By Choice.


Public Opinion

The 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that 81% of those surveyed believed a woman should have the right to choose whether or not she has an abortion.

On average, between only 5% - 9% of the Australian community are opposed to abortion in every circumstance.

Access to termination of pregnancy is supported by a wide sector of the Australian population, across gender, religion, voting preferences and general practitioners.

This has been demonstrated by a range of independent studies, details of which are in the
Women's Health Victoria's submission to the VLRC (.pdf document 1.12MB).

Further information can be found in the Australian Reproduction Health Alliance's report What do Australians Think About Abortion (.pdf document 291 KB).

You can also download a detailed article on opinion trends on abortion in Australia by academic Katharine Betts: Attitudes to Abortion in Australia: 1972- 2003 (.pdf document 147 KB).


Religion and Choice

The US Freedom from Religion Foundation lists Christian denominations and religious groups that agree abortion is not condemned in the Bible and should be legal:

  • American Ethical Union
  • American Friends (Quaker) Service Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Episcopal Church
  • Lutheran Women's Caucus
  • Moravian Church in America-Northern Province
  • Presbyterian Church ( USA )
  • Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Methodist Church
  • United Synagogue of America
  • Women's Caucus Church of the Brethren
  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
  • Catholics for Free Choice
  • Evangelicals for Choice
  • American Ethical Union
  • American Friends (Quaker) Service Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Episcopal Church
  • Lutheran Women's Caucus
  • Moravian Church in America-Northern Province
  • Presbyterian Church ( USA )
  • Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Methodist Church
  • United Synagogue of America
  • Women's Caucus Church of the Brethren
  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
  • Catholics for Free Choice
  • Evangelicals for Choice


The Centre for Reproductive Rights has written a report on the perspective of abortion adopted by Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, Religious Voices Worldwide (.pdf document 119 KB).

A summary of the attitudes and beliefs of seven faith groups can be found on the UK Family Planning Association's fact sheet on Religion, contraception and abortion (.pdf document 454 KB).

It is a myth that the Bible forbids abortion. It is largely silent on the matter, and what it does say is open to interpretation. Read further discussions of this issue by Steve Kangas and the Skeptic.

Until Pope Pius IX's 1869 decree, the Catholic Church held that the fetus was not a person, and abortion not homicide until later in pregnancy. Stephen T Asma has written a detailed history of the Catholic position on abortion, Abortion and the embarrassing saint.

Read the New York Times review of the book No Turning Back . This is an inspiring story of American women Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey, two Sisters of Notre Dame, who argued publicly that conscientious Roman Catholics could dissent from the Church's teaching against abortion.

Some Catholics affirm the moral capacity of women and men to make sound decisions about their reproductive lives. Read about Catholics for Choice and Abortion. For further information, see the website of Catholics for a Free Choice.

While nearly all pro-life advocates are religious, the majority of religious people support choice. For instance, the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that 77% of Australians with religious views support a woman's right to choose. Further information can be found in the Australian Reproduction Health Alliance's report What do Australians Think About Abortion (.pdf document 291 KB).

In 2008, The Melbourne Anglican Church put a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission supporting the "...provision of safe and affordable abortions with appropriate safeguards for women who, for whatever reasons, request them." Read the Submission from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.


Australian Law

In Victoria, women can seek termination lawfully, but abortion is still recognised as a criminal offence.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission has in information paper that explains the law in all jurisdictions in Australia as well as the law in Victoria. It also describes the process underway to reform Victoria's abortion law. Read the VLRC's information paper
The Law of Abortion (.pdf document 99 KB).

A summary of abortion laws can be found on the The Children by Choice website.

The ACT has the most progressive law in the country. In 2002 they repealed the statutory and common law offences of abortion, and the procedure is now regulated in the Health Act. There is no evidence that any increase in demand for abortion at any stage of gestation has occurred.

In contrast, law reform in WA in 1998 has had less positive outcomes. The law is unnecessarily confusing prior to 20 weeks gestation, and after 20 weeks gestation access for termination is complex, requiring each woman's case to be evaluated by a faceless committee. Documented problems with the regime include women feeling pressured to make a quick rather than considered decision after a negative fetal diagnosis when the pregnancy is less than 20 weeks, and of women failing to bond with babies they were compelled to deliver after being denied abortion by the committee. Read the Department of Health and Department of Justice's Review of the Amendments (.pdf document 369 KB).


Australian Service Provision

Abortions are currently carried out in some public hospitals and private practices across Australia. The cost of abortions can vary depending on which service is utilised and the type of abortion procedure.

Cait Calcutt, from
Children by Choice, reviewed service provisions in 2007 for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics, Abortion Services in Victoria.

For basic information on service provision in Victoria, including costs visit the Victorian Government's Better Health Channel website..


Conscientious Objection

The right of medical practitioners to conscientiously object to providing patients with care to which they have objections must be balanced against their professional obligation to provide timely, high-quality care.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) provides advice to its members on managing this conflict. In particular, they advise doctors that they must:

The UK General Medical Council guidance provides clearer directives to anti-choice doctors about their obligations to patients. Its 2008 guidelines state that doctors must tell their patients if they are anti-choice and refer them to another doctor, and must neither mislead patients about the options available to them, obstruct access to these options, nor leave their patients with nowhere to turn.

View the UK General Medical Council's guidelines on
Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice.


Abortion Rates

Australia's abortion rate has declined modestly since 1995. Findings from the recently released Australian Longitudinal Study of Health and Relationships study found that less than 5 per cent of women born in the 1980s have had an abortion, a significant drop from the rate seen in women 10 years older. Young women are now as likely as their grandmothers were to have an abortion, despite the different legal and social environments faced by these two cohorts of women.

The finding that there is no predictive relationship between the legal framework surrounding abortion and abortion rates was reiterated in a 2007 article in The Lancet by Sedgh, Henshaw, Singh, Ahman and Shah: "unrestrictive abortions laws do not predict a high incidence of abortion and by the same token, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with low abortion incidence". View the full article,
Induced abortion: estimated rates and trends worldwide (.pdf document 149 KB).

A study published in The European Journal of Public Health 2001 also found that in the countries observed decriminalisation had no observed effect on the trends in abortion. See the study's abstract.

In March 2008, the Council of Europe invited all member states to decriminalise abortion on the grounds that "A ban on abortions does not result in fewer abortions, but mainly leads to clandestine abortions, which are more traumatic and more dangerous". See their full report Access to safe and legal abortion in Europe (.pdf document 123 KB).

It is difficult to estimate accurately the number of abortions performed in Australia. Using statistics acquired from the Medicare benefits schedule item referring to management of second-trimester labour is not an accurate estimation as it is not possible to differentiate between induced abortion and miscarriage.

Some details of abortion rates can be found on The Australian Reproductive Health Alliance fact sheet Abortion in Australia (.pdf document 60KB).

Further discussion on the issue of abortion statistics can be found at The Parliamentary Library paper How many abortions are there in Australia?.


Contraception

A range of contraception options are available for both men and women, including the pill and condoms. The types of contraception you choose depends on your personal circumstances - your age, your way of life, whether or not you have children, your health and the need to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

There is no evidence that women use abortion as a method of contraception. However, sexual violence and coercion remain realities for many women, and no method of contraception is foolproof. In 2004, the World Health Organisation estimated that even if contraception was used correctly all the time, there would still be close to 6 million accidental pregnancies every year. This means that unplanned pregnancy will always be a reality for women and couples, and safe and legal abortion a necessary service. Read the WHO report
Unsafe Abortion (.pdf document 1.222 MB).

Further information on contraceptive options can be found at Family Planning Victoria and Marie Stopes International.


Victorian Law Reform Commission Inquiry

On 20 August 2007, the Victorian government asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission for legislative advice on the decriminalisation of terminations of pregnancy.

The Commission received terms of reference for the project on 26 September 2007 and was asked to finish its report to parliament by 28 March 2008. The Attorney-General then has 14 sitting days of parliament to release the report.

The commission held more than 30 meetings with people involved in abortion law reform from the beginning of October until mid-November 2007.

More than 500 submissions to the review were received by the 9 November 2007 deadline. The report was delivered to Government on March 30, and the findings tabled in Parliament on 29 May.

For more information on the reference and to read the final report visit the
VLRC website.

A selection of submissions are listed below:


Victorian Parliamentary Vote

In the Australian political party system members of parliament (MPs) nearly always vote in parliament along party lines. On the occasions when members do not they either abstain from voting, cross the floor to vote with the opposing parties or are allowed a free or conscience vote by the party.

The term conscience vote is most commonly used in Australia to describe votes on moral and social issues such as abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment (life and death issues).

For further information on conscience votes in Australia and other Western parliaments, please visit the Australian Parliament House website.

For a copy of the bill and explanatory memorandum of the bill Minister Maxine Morand presented to parliament on 19 August 2008, Click to see a copy of the Bill and Click to see a copy of the explanatory memorandum


Here are some replies to correspondence sent by MPs during the debate to some of our supporters.

Jaala Pulford Member for Western Victoria
John Lenders Member for Southern Metropolitan Region
Wendy Lovell Member for Northern Victoria Region
Kaye Darveniza Member for Northern Victoria
Dan O'Brien Office of the Premier
Craig Ingram Member for Gippsland East
Bill Sykes Member for Benalla
Philip Davis Member for Eastern Victoria