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Abortion

7-minute read

What is an abortion?

An abortion (or termination) is the medical process of ending a pregnancy so it does not result in the birth of a baby. Depending on how many weeks you have been pregnant, the pregnancy can be ended by taking medication or by having a surgical procedure.

An abortion is not the same as a miscarriage, where the pregnancy ends without medical intervention (although medical treatment may be needed after a miscarriage).

Why do women have abortions?

There are many reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion. Deciding to have an abortion is a deeply personal choice and in many cases, a very difficult decision to make.

For example, the pregnancy may be unplanned and the woman’s personal circumstances might make it difficult or impossible to raise a child. These reasons could include financial considerations, being in an abusive relationship, where assault is involved, not being the right time, or the woman may not want to have a baby.

Some women may discover there is something wrong with their baby or that continuing with the pregnancy may put their own health at risk.

Whatever the reason a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy, the choice is hers to make.

When can I have an abortion?

There are 2 different types of abortion that you could have based on your stage of pregnancy. The earlier you talk to your doctor or clinic about having an abortion, the more choices you will have.

Surgical abortion

The most common type of abortion is a surgical procedure called a ‘suction curette’. This involves removing of the lining and the contents of the uterus by applying gentle suction to the inside of the uterus with a small plastic tube. Surgical abortion is a safe and straightforward day-surgery procedure most often performed in the first trimester (up to 14 weeks’ gestation). The procedure takes about 15 minutes, but you will need to be at the clinic or hospital for about 4 hours.

Medical abortion

A low-risk alternative to surgery used for terminating pregnancies earlier than 9 weeks (depending on the clinic) is a medication called mifepristone (RU486). It is sometimes called ‘the abortion pill’ and is the most widely known medication used for this procedure. Medical abortion is a 2-stage process. The first stage involves taking a tablet that blocks the hormone necessary for the pregnancy to continue. This is followed 36 to 48 hours later by a second medication that causes the contents of the uterus to be expelled.

What is a 'late-term' abortion?

A late-term or second trimester abortion is when a pregnancy is terminated after 14 weeks. The process is similar to a surgical abortion, but instead of suction, instruments are used to remove the fetus.

You may need to travel interstate to have a late-term abortion since states and territories have different laws on how late an abortion can be performed.

Abortion law in Australia varies across states and territories. Abortion is legal in all states and territories under certain circumstances and when it is done by a registered medical professional.

In most states and territories, it is illegal to protest within 150m of a clinic or service that provides abortions.

ACT

Abortion is legal and must be performed by a medical professional including a nurse.

New South Wales

Abortions can be performed at up to 22 weeks' gestation. After that, 2 doctors must approve the procedure.

Northern Territory

One doctor can approve and perform an abortion at up to 14 weeks. Between 14 and 23 weeks, a second doctor also needs to approve. After 23 weeks, an abortion can only be performed if the life of the woman is at risk.

Queensland

Abortions can be performed at up to 22 weeks. After 22 weeks, 2 doctors must approve the procedure.

South Australia

An abortion can only be performed if 2 doctors agree the health or mental wellbeing of the woman is at risk or the fetus has a serious abnormality.

Tasmania

Abortions can be performed at up to 16 weeks. After 16 weeks, 2 doctors must approve the procedure.

Victoria

Abortions can be performed at up to 24 weeks. After 24 weeks, 2 doctors must approve the procedure.

Western Australia

Abortions can be performed at up to 20 weeks. Termination after 20 weeks is very restricted.

How much does an abortion cost?

The cost of an abortion will depend on whether it is a medical or surgical abortion, how far along you are and whether you are using a public service or a private clinic.

Not all GPs can prescribe a medical abortion and not all chemists stock the medication required. Depending on where you live, you may need to go to an approved clinic or a hospital.

Hospitals and GPs may offer bulk billing or they may be partially covered by Medicare. For a private clinic, the consultation can cost several hundred dollars. The medication costs around $50, less if you have a healthcare card.

Surgical abortions cost around the same as a medical abortion, but this cost can vary depending on how many weeks along you are and whether you are a public or private patient.

Apart from the cost of the actual procedure, many women may need to travel to get an abortion. Termination services are not easily accessible in rural and remote areas and depending on the law in your state or territory, you may need to travel interstate to have an abortion.

Some clinics can offer medical abortion consultations via telehealth video call. Speak to your GP or clinic to find out if this option is available to you.

Can I get counselling before an abortion?

Yes, you can. Counselling is an important part of the decision making process when you are considering whether to have an abortion. You should understand all of your options and make the decision that is right for you.

Your doctor or clinic will talk to you about your choices and offer support services so you can talk to someone.

If you can, talk to family and friends, but you shouldn’t allow anyone else to pressure you. You should also make sure you seek advice and support from counselling services that will give you unbiased information and won’t try to talk you into making a decision that is not right for you.

When can I start contraception after an abortion?

After you’ve had an abortion, your normal menstrual cycle will resume. This means it’s possible for you to fall pregnant again. You should talk to your doctor or clinic about the best type of contraception to use.

How do I find an abortion clinic?

You can contact the Family Planning clinic in your state or territory. You can also use the Find a Health service or call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to get help finding a service near you.

How is the 'morning after' pill different from an abortion?

Emergency contraception, sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’, can be taken up to 5 days after having unprotected sex. Unlike an abortion which ends a pregnancy, emergency contraception prevents a pregnancy from happening.

There are 2 types of medication available to prevent pregnancy in Australia. The levonorgestrel pill can be taken up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex. Ulipristal acetate (UPA) can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. Both are available over the counter from a pharmacist without a prescription.

Where can I get more information and advice?

Australia has safe and supportive abortion and family planning clinics that can provide reliable advice.

To find these clinics, and for reliable, unbiased information about abortion in your state or territory, contact:

You can also discuss your options with your doctor, or call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse for information and support.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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