The main points
- Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Australia – around one in three Australian women will have the procedure in their lifetime.
- Medication (non-surgical) options include the drug mifepristone, also known as RU486 or ‘the abortion pill’.
- Research shows most Australians support safe and legal abortion.
Abortion is the termination (end) of a pregnancy. Most abortions are performed during the first trimester of pregnancy (up to 12 weeks), but some may be performed in the second trimester (12 to 24 weeks) or, in rare circumstances, in the third trimester (24 to 36 weeks).
Types of abortion
Two types of abortion are currently available:
- Surgical abortion is a low-risk procedure most commonly used for first trimester (seven to 12 weeks) abortion in Australia. Known as suction aspiration or suction curette, it involves removing the lining and contents of the uterus (womb). A range of other surgical techniques are used for abortion later in pregnancy.
- Medication abortion is a low-risk alternative to surgery that is used for terminating pregnancies earlier than seven to nine weeks (depending on the clinic). Mifepristone (RU486), also known as ‘the abortion pill’, is the most widely known medication used for this procedure. It is available in many clinics in Australia and is up to 98 per cent effective when used in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion in Victoria
There is no accurate figure for the number of abortions performed in Australia as there is no specific data collected in all states and territories. The estimated number is 80,000 per year. Approximately 34% of Australian woman aged 20-29 who have ever been pregnant have had an abortion. Limited information available suggests the Australian abortion rate is decreasing, possibly due to increased uptake of very effective long acting contraceptives such as implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
Abortion legislation is different in every Australian state and territory. The Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act was introduced in 2008.
What does the Victorian law say about abortion?
Not more than 24 weeks pregnant
The law allows women to choose to have an abortion. The service must be provided by a registered medical practitioner. Services providing the procedure beyond 16 weeks are limited and can be costly.
More than 24 weeks pregnant
The law allows for abortion if at least two doctors agree that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances. In making their decision, the doctors must consider all relevant medical circumstances and the woman's current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances. It is very uncommon for an abortion to be performed at this stage of pregnancy and the usual reason is for fetal abnormality.
Australian abortion laws vary
Abortion laws vary between Australian states and territories, which can be confusing. Most of the variation concerns the reason for abortion and the stage of pregnancy. Early abortion (up to 14 weeks) is available Australia-wide and later abortion is available in most states and territories.
Do I have to have counselling first?
No, you don't.
If you would like to have counselling, you can do so through your doctor. Your doctor can also refer you to a specially trained counsellor. At Family Planning Victoria we offer one hour pregnancy choices information sessions with a nurse. These sessions provide factual information about all the options available to support you in making your decision.
How is an abortion carried out?
The two types of abortion are:
- surgical abortion: usually performed as a day procedure, using a light general anaesthetic.
- medication abortion: performed for pregnancies up to 9 weeks. See Medication Abortion for more information.
Where can I have an abortion?
- A number of private abortion providers are listed in the Yellow Pages under 'Abortion'.
- Family Planning Victoria provides medication abortion (abortion pill). Our nurses may also be able to assist you find a provider in your area.
- General Practitioners: A few GPs, mostly in rural areas, provide medication abortion. Your local doctor or community health centre might be able to help you find a provider near where you live.
- Some public hospitals also provide a limited number of free abortions.