Family Planning NSW has called for the government to collect national data on abortion numbers in Australia. In an investigative report by the ABC into falling abortion numbers in Australia, Family Planning NSW chief executive officer Professor Ann Brassil was quoted.
“There is clearly a need for the Government to support national consistency in relation to abortion law and for up-to-date mandatory national data collections in relation to abortion.”
We too would love to see comprehensive data on abortion numbers in Australia so that we have a truthful snapshot of the situation, including the reasons why women make the decision. We can easily source data on the number of people who had their tonsils out or who broke their leg each year, but not how many women have abortions.
Collecting detailed data is also a means of accurately assessing how many women are coerced into abortion by partners such as Miss X and Jaya Taki, both from Sydney, whose stories made the news this year. Miss X was repeatedly bullied and finally paid $50,000 to abort her baby at 16 weeks.
A pregnancy support agency in Brisbane says 70 per cent of the women they see have been pressured into abortion by their partners.
South Australia and Western Australia are the only states regularly gathering information on abortions, and South Australia is the only State that records why. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last reported on abortion in 2005, using 2003 figures.
There were around 5,000 fewer abortions in 2016 than a decade ago, according to latest figures from South Australia and Western Australia showing a 6% drop in terminations*. This still puts the annual number of abortions at 72,000-75,000, down on 2005 estimates of around 80,000 abortions a year.* Figures do not include the use of the Morning After pill, which may or may not have an abortifacient effect, depending on when it’s administered.
The ABC investigation was concerned with a conflict of interest on the part of makers of long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs, including the Implanon implant and the Mirena intra-uterine device). It found that pharmaceutical companies responsible for making the LARCs, together with key opinion leaders including the College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, academics and family planning clinics, continue to use outdated data suggesting Australia’s abortion rate is still at around 80,000 per year.
“The outdated abortion figures were most recently cited in a “consensus statement” put out by health and family planning groups for World Contraception Day in September this year,” the ABC reported.
“The statement, which was picked up by other media, backed the use of long-acting contraceptives and cited statistics that there was an estimated 80,000 abortions each year in Australia. It was signed by groups including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), Family Planning NSW, Marie Stopes, and the Australian Health and Hospitals Association. However, the statement was sponsored by the Merck, Sharp and Dohme — the makers of LARCs including the Implanon implant and vaginal ring, called the Nuva-Ring. While it was disclosed that the pharmaceutical company sponsored the statement, they failed to say the company made long-acting contraceptives.”
While the report affirmed our own findings, that abortion numbers seem to be on a downward trajectory (based on SA and WA data), it also found a marked increase in prescriptions for abortion drug RU486. According to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme figures, prescriptions for mifepristone/misoprostol (RU486) have increased from 9,373 in 2015 to 17,824 in 2017.
What the jumble of figures taken from here, there and everywhere tells us is this: We need mandatory national data collection on abortion.
Hear, hear, Family Planning NSW.
*1. Induced Abortions in Western Australia 2010-2012, 4th report of the Abortion Notification System, http://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/Files/Corporate/Reports%20and%20publications/Abortion/PDF/Abortion_Report_2010-12.ashx; Questions on Notice by Nick Goiran to the Health Minister, WA Legislative Council, Hansard, April 18, 2014, p 2209; March 2015, p 2011; May 2016, p2504b. South Australian Legislative Assembly, May 18, 2017, South Australian Abortion Reporting Committee 2015. Australian Bureau of Statistics.
*2. 90,000 annual abortions was the estimate given by Senator Patterson in her response to Senator Boswell’s question in 2005. See Australia Senate, 2005 debates, vol s14, P69. A parliamentary review that same year noted the range of 70,000-100,000 abortions per year, but determined it was impossible to get an accurate count of abortions . See Department of Parliamentary Services, How Many Abortions are There in Australia? , http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fprspub%2FCF7F6%22 The Australian Medical Journal reported there were an estimated 84,460 abortions in 2003, Annabelle Chan and C. Sage,