An abortion (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).
If you have an unwanted pregnancy or pregnancy complications, it’s important to look at all your options. There are different types of abortion you can explore based on your stage of pregnancy, but it’s worthwhile talking to a reliable and unbiased source for more information.
There are many reasons a woman might decide to have an abortion including:
- personal circumstances
- a health risk to the mother
- a high probability that the baby will have a medical condition
Abortion law in Australia varies across state and territory jurisdictions. Some states and territories have reformed or decriminalised abortion, while others continue to restrict women’s access to abortion. For more information, this article details abortion law in each State and Territory.
The most common type of abortion is a surgical procedure called a ‘suction curette’. This involves the removal 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 (12-14 weeks’ gestation). The procedure takes about 15 minutes, but you will need to be at the clinic or hospital for about 4 hours.
A low-risk alternative to surgery used for terminating pregnancies earlier than 9 weeks (depending on the clinic), is a medication called RU486 (mifepristone). It is sometimes called ‘the abortion pill’, and is the most widely known medication used for this procedure. Medical abortion is a two-stage process. The first stage involves taking a tablet that blocks the hormone necessary for the pregnancy to continue. This is followed 24-48 hours later by a second medication that causes the contents of the uterus to be expelled.
There are some safe and supportive abortion and family planning clinics that you can go to get reliable advice.
For reliable, unbiased information about abortion in your state or territory, you can contact:
- Family Planning Alliance Australia
- Marie Stopes Australia
- Australian Women’s Health Network
- Children by Choice (Queensland)
- 1800MyOptions (Victoria)
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: September 2018