The Australian Women’s Health Network recognises that access to safe termination of pregnancy services is an important women’s health issue but that there is a wide range of ethical and religious beliefs regarding abortion in the Australian community. Despite the diversity of views, the vast majority of Australians support a woman’s right to choose.
- The Australian Women’s Health Network believe that no woman should be forced to terminate a pregnancy, nor be compelled to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
- Abortion should be primarily considered by legislators, policymakers and health administrators as a health and human rights issue. A woman’s right to choose is in the best interests of her health.
- All reference to abortion should be removed from the criminal laws and codes of the States and Territories of Australia. Abortion should be regulated, as are all other medical services, under the health care and medical practice legislation. There is no case for singling out the abortion procedure in any area of legislation.
- Abortion services should be made available, safe and equitable. Governments should ensure that women in rural, regional and remote areas are able to access pregnancy termination services, including ensuring patient confidentiality is maintained.
- Medicare rebates for abortion should provide adequate recompense. The cost of private pregnancy termination services are increasing beyond the reach of many women on low incomes. State and Federal Governments should ensure that no woman seeking abortion is unable to obtain this service due to costs she will incur in relation to the procedure.
- The primary public health goal in the area of unplanned pregnancy must be prevention. Educational, social and health service programs are required to improve information and access to planned parenting choices. Sexual health education programs in secondary, tertiary and adult learning environments require expansion.
The Australian Women’s Health Network recognises that:
- Unplanned pregnancy is a reality of many Australian women’s lives. No contraceptive method is 100% effective and many new improved contraceptive products are not available in Australia or are not registered with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme;
- In most Australian States and Territories, the legal framework does not allow the decision to abort a pregnancy as a matter for individual conscience and medical advice. The law pertaining to abortion is located in the criminal statutes and codes. The criminal law is an inappropriate vehicle – both in principle and practice – for regulating the provision of abortion.
- Change to the legal framework has been made In Western Australia. Section 334 of the Health Act sets out the circumstances in which an abortion is justified. Section 199 of the Criminal Code establishes the offence of performing an abortion unless performed by a medical practitioner and justified under s334 of the Health Act. The Criminal Code also prescribes penalties if an offence has been committed;
- The health status of women and their children is enhanced when safe, reliable methods of fertility control are available;
- Before 1971, abortion was a major cause of pregnancy-related deaths in Australia. Since then, abortion deaths have been very rare, and usually occurred in women with multiple pre-existing health problems[i];
- Complication rates associated with abortion in Australia are very low. Complication rates are reduced when safe abortion services are readily available and the procedure is performed prior to the 12th week of pregnancy;
- Therapeutic abortion is the third most commonly performed gynaecological procedure, and significant proportion of all Australian women undergo an abortion at some stage during their reproductive lives. It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies in Australia are terminated but these figures could be significantly reduced if greater investment was made in reproductive health promotion.
NOTE: This policy draws on the policy of the Public Health Association of Australia, and is therefore also an endorsement of the PHAA position on abortion.
[i] National Health and Medical Research Council Maternal Mortality Working Party (1988). Report on Maternal Deaths in Australia 1991-93. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.