women and abortion With over half of all pregnancies unplanned, it is not surprising that abortion is a reality for many women. In fact, research has found that nearly a third (29%) of women have had an abortion to resolve an unplanned pregnancy.1 Although a very complex and personal decision, it is vital that caregivers have an understanding of why women choose abortion and have an insight into the circumstances surrounding the decision to terminate in order to provide appropriate emotional support. This brochure overviews how many abortions take place in Australia, the many reasons why women have abortions, their decision making experience and at what
Reasons for abortion The Key Center for Women’s Health in Society and the Royal Women’s Hospital conducted extensive research into women’s reasons for seeking abortion, and as part of the research reviewed the Royal Women’s Hospital records for a 12 month period.3 According to the responses of 3,018 women, the most common single reasons for seeking an abortion was family completion or the desire to delay pregnancy. The research noted that several of the reasons given by women for seeking an abortion could be categorised as it being the “wrong time”and that these reasons constituted over half of all responses (54%).
gestational stage they present.
Almost one fifth stated that they had decided to have an abortion as they had completed their families. Financial, relationship or medical reasons accounted for 19% of responses and rape for almost 1% of cases
Decision making and personal views
It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of abortions performed in Australia, as South Australia is the only Australian jurisdiction which both collects and routinely publishes comprehensive data on abortions.
Marie Stopes International commissioned research on over 1,000 women who had experienced an unplanned pregnancy, and found that women who choose abortion experience the decision-making process as more arduous than those who choose to parent.4
Statistics from South Australia’s 2007 report into pregnancy outcomes indicate that there were 15.4 terminations per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years, and that this rate has remained stable for the last three years.2
Nearly half (48%) of all women faced with an unplanned pregnancy said that they found it either difficult or very difficult to decide what to do. And nearly half of all women that went on to have an abortion (47%) admitted that they found it very difficult to decide.
The views women have about abortion impact on the degree of difficulty they experience making up their mind about what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. Women who are broadly pro-choice (55%) followed by those who are unsure of where they stand on the issue (45%) are more likely to report having difficulty with the decision making process. What these findings show is that abortion is not a decision women take lightly, nor is it unconsidered.
Gestation The majority of terminations performed in Australia are done so within the first trimester. The South Australian data on the gestational age at which pregnancies were terminated shows that 91% of terminations were performed within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Only a very small proportion (1.7% or 81 terminations) were performed at or after 20 weeks gestation and over half of these were performed for foetal reasons.
Delayed abortion Delayed abortions are very rare and each woman’s circumstances are unique and compelling. Women who present for delayed abortions generally fall into the following four categories: • They have been diagnosed with a foetal abnormality. • There has been a failure to recognise or diagnose the pregnancy earlier. • There has been a catastrophic change in their circumstances. • They have experienced difficulty in accessing abortion services.
For many women it can be a very difficult time, fraught with emotion - therefore it is vital that they have access to the very best medical care and support during this period.
Women’s voices “ I have no income and no desire to bring a child into a life without hope.” Bec*, age 20 “ I was weighing up my options…I wrote down everything, the dos and the don’t, you know, the great things that would happen if I did have the baby, and it’s just all the things that were negative overrules the positive.” Angie*, age 21. “ People have different circumstances and it takes a lot of courage for someone to admit this is actually what they want to do and go through with it…until you are put in the situation yourself you can’t really judge, you can’t say what’s right or wrong until you’re there.” Jane*, age 21 “I think all cases should be viewed individually. I don’t think there is a right or wrong. I never expected to find myself in this situation and now understand just how distressing it is and what a hard decision it is to make.” Helen*, age 37. “ It’s not an easy decision to make and I think the media should support us for the right to choose. After all, it’s us women who have to live with the decision for the rest of our lives.” Madeleine*, age 27 “ At the end of the day we are all entitled to freedom of choice.” Beth* aged 24.
*Names have been changed to protect identity. 1. Marie Stopes International/Web Survey. What Women Want: when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. 2006. 2. Pregnancy Outcome Unit Epidemiology Branch, SA Health, Pregnancy outcome in South Australia 2007. 3. Rosenthal, D., Rowe, H., Mallett, S., Hardiman A., and Kirkman, M. (2009), Understanding women’s experiences of unplanned pregnancy and abortion, final report … Key Center for Women’s Health in Society, Melbourne School of Population health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Australia 4. Marie Stopes International/Web Survey. What Women Want: when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. 2006.