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Termination of pregnancy (abortion)

termination; abortion; unplanned; pregnancy; ;


Among women of reproductive age, recent Australian research shows that approximately half will have experienced an unplanned pregnancy making it a normal part of women's reproductive experience.

  • About 50% of women who experience an unplanned pregnancy will choose to have an abortion (termination) and 1 in 3 women in Australia will have an abortion in her lifetime.

While many women are clear that a termination is the best choice for them given their circumstances and the context of their lives, for other women it can be a complex and difficult decision. Women often consider their relationship status, the support available to them, their housing, financial and work situation, if they already have children, the impact on them, as well as moral, spiritual and emotional issues when making a decision.

  • Have a look at the Pregnancy options counselling topic for information about where to access professional support in South Australia if you feel you need it.

In South Australia the most abortions are provided through the public health system and are available to women who hold a Medicare card. There are also a small number of providers in the private sector (you will need a doctor's referral – and there will be associated charges).

  • SA Health Useful information on abortion and unplanned pregnancy  
  • The South Australia Abortion & Support Services is a pro-choice government funded clinic that provides termination of pregnancy up to 22 weeks gestation. Counselling and abortion services can be free of charge if a woman is covered by Medicare and depending on the options available. PAC can offer counselling to women not covered by Medicare and would refer to other services if they want to proceed with a termination. A doctor's referral is not required to attend the South Australia Abortion & Support Services
  • Services are also provided at the major metropolitan public hospitals. 
  • Women who live outside metropolitan Adelaide should contact their local GP or regional community health service for information or can contact the Pregnancy Advisory Centre for information on local services. Toll free telephone number for country callers: 1800 672 966.

Physical aspects of abortion

  • Safe, legal abortion, performed by qualified staff, is very rarely associated with any future risk to fertility.
  • Most women return to their pre-pregnancy fertility immediately following the abortion procedure. A small number of women have a delay in the return of normal menstrual cycles.
    • It is recommended that you use or resume contraception following an abortion.
    • Information about methods of contraception will be available at the time of the abortion to assist you to make the best choice for you.
  • Abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Have a look at the Pregnancy Advisory Centre pamphlet Myths and facts about abortion

Emotional aspects of abortion

Research shows that after a termination of pregnancy, the majority of women feel relieved, and happy they are able to get on with their lives. The pregnancy is often a time of personal crisis and decision making can provide the opportunity for her to reaffirm her life goals or, positive life reassessments and changes.

Research and clinical experience indicate that approximately 1 in 10 women can experience some troubling feelings following an abortion. You are more likely to experience emotional or psychological problems after an abortion if

  • you felt pressured or forced into the decision,
  • you were not supported, felt isolated or judged  in your decision,
  • if you are experiencing problems or have a history of mental health illness
  • if you have strong religious or spiritual beliefs against abortion
  • the pregnancy was wanted and an abnormality was diagnosed. There is a topic Genetic or medical termination of pregnancy for information about this.

Unfortunately the  stigma attached to abortion can still persist, and for some women the need to keep an abortion secret, can also make coping with an abortion more difficult.

These feelings can range from short lived and mild to longer term, complex and challenging feelings. If you feel you are not coping, all of the services that offer unplanned pregnancy counselling also provide post abortion counselling (see topic on Pregnancy options counselling).

How a termination is done

Early medication abortion
Most abortions in Australia are performed by a surgical procedure that removes the pregnancy from the uterus. But it is also possible, by using two medications, to cause the pregnancy to miscarry. This procedure is a medication abortion.

An early medication abortion is suitable for pregnancies up to 63 days after the start of the last menstrual period. Since its first use in 1988, medication abortion has been safely used by millions of women world-wide, with between 95 and 98% of women experiencing a complete abortion.

For more information: SA Health fact sheet 'Early medical abortion'.

Surgical abortion

A surgical abortion is most effective for a pregnancy of more than 7 weeks. In most cases the woman is given a light general anaesthetic for the termination procedure which takes about 15 minutes. Local anaesthetic or local anaesthetic plus sedation (medication that makes you feel drowsy and calm) are also available at some services. The woman must fast (not eat or drink, suck or chew) for 4-6 hours before the procedure.

The procedure involves the doctor inserting a small plastic tube through the vagina and into the uterus (womb). The pregnancy tissue is suctioned through the tube. This can be done in day surgery. The actual procedure only takes about 10 to 20 minutes but it is usual to stay in the clinic for one and a half to three hours afterwards.

At a later stage in the pregnancy the procedure is more involved as the cervix needs to be prepared using medication before the operation. This ensures that the procedure is still very safe.

A doctor's referral is not required for a termination of pregnancy at the public health services of SA Health. 

What the law says about termination

In South Australia and the rest of Australia, pregnancy termination is legal if continuing your pregnancy would harm your physical or mental health more than having the procedure, or if the pregnancy has physical or mental abnormalities.  

Legally, the male partner does not have to give his consent for a woman to have an abortion. Men may want their say in whether a pregnancy or termination goes ahead  and can be involved in the decision making process if the woman feels this is important to her and believes his involvement would be beneficial and supportive of the relationship.

In South Australia, if you are 16 or over, your parents do not have to give consent. If a young woman is under 16 and feels she can't talk to her parents about the pregnancy, she can still give consent for the operation however two doctors will need to certify that she understands her decision and the procedure.  Termination services will also make sure that a young woman under the age of 16 is safe and encourage her to get support from an adult she trusts.

Resources in South Australia

Resources in Australia

There are contacts for unbiased information listed at the bottom of this topic on the Pregnancy, birth and baby website

SA Health  

  • Useful information on abortion and unplanned pregnancy - for pro-choice information and services in Australia
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    The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.


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