Summary

  • Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Australia – around one in three Australian women will have the procedure in their lifetime.
  • Medication (non-surgical) options include the drug mifepristone, also known as RU486 or ‘the abortion pill’.
  • Research shows most Australians support safe and legal abortion.

Abortion (or ‘termination of pregnancy’) is when a pregnancy is intentionally ended early. In Victoria, abortion is legal and all women have the right to access a termination before 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

Research shows that most Australians support safe and legal abortion. 

This fact sheet provides an overview of the information you might need and where to get additional support if you need it.

Depending on how long you have been pregnant, as well as service availability, you may have the option of either a medical or surgical abortion. For more information about each procedure, and to work out which one is right for you, please visit: 

If you need information about how to confirm a pregnancy, visit your GP or contact the Women’s Health Information Centre at the Royal Women’s Hospital or Family Planning Victoria. 

Abortion law in Victoria

Abortion is legal in Victoria. The Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 decriminalised abortion and set out guidelines for when abortion can take place. A woman is legally entitled to have an abortion until she is 24 weeks pregnant. 

Abortion after 24 weeks is legal, but is not common. Two doctors must agree the termination is appropriate, considering the woman’s relevant medical circumstances, and her current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances. 

Under Victorian law, a health practitioner who has a conscientious objection to providing abortion information must refer any woman seeking information about abortion services to another doctor who doesn’t object.

While some doctors may object to abortion, they are required by law to refer you to a pro-choice doctor if you wish to discuss abortion. If you feel your doctor has not done this you can make a complaint via the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner or the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

In 2016, the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Act 2015 was introduced to ensure that women and staff entering or leaving premises providing abortions, could do so safely and privately, without fear or harassment. Find out more about safe access legislation.

Abortion law in the rest of Australia

Several studies show most Australians support safe and legal abortion. However, laws vary between Australian states and territories, which can be confusing. Most of the variation concerns the reason for abortion and the stage of pregnancy.

The following links provide more information on abortion laws around Australia:

 

Deciding whether to have an abortion 

While many women have made their decision to have an abortion before attending a clinic, some will need more information to help make their decision. This may include information about alternatives (such as adoption and foster care), including support services that are available if the woman wishes to continue with the pregnancy.

Before having an abortion, women should be given information about the procedure itself, anaesthesia options for surgical termination and pre- and post-abortion care. Part of the decision-making process includes being fully informed.

Some women may need counselling from a trained professional. Medicare-rebated pregnancy support counselling services are provided by some doctors, social workers, mental health nurses and psychologists. 

For a woman who is considering abortion and is having difficulties making a decision, counselling can offer an unbiased, non-judgemental and non-directional opportunity to work through her feelings and thoughts. In some cases, the woman’s partner or parent also requests access to counselling.

Most women deciding whether to proceed with a pregnancy or have an abortion consider many of the same factors as women thinking about trying to become pregnant, including:

  • their readiness to take on a parenting role
  • the needs of children they may already have
  • their career and financial situation
  • their mental and physical health
  • the level of support they are likely to receive from their extended family
  • their moral, emotional and religious beliefs about pregnancy, abortion and motherhood.

Abortion and planned pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman may be told there are problems with her health or the health of the foetus. When this happens, she may be faced with the decision of whether to have an abortion.

Having an abortion in this circumstance is likely to cause a great deal of emotional distress. Genetic and pregnancy counselling is available to support the woman in making her decision.

A woman may also reconsider her plans and terminate (end) a pregnancy that she had originally wanted because of a relationship ending, financial problems, medical conditions or family issues. 

If you need more assistance with decision-making or support, you can contact the Pregnancy Advisory Service at the Royal Women’s Hospital or Family Planning Victoria

Abortion facts and myths

There are many myths and misconceptions about abortion. Some are based on beliefs from the past when abortion was illegal and ‘backyard’ procedures carried considerable risks.

If you have ever searched for information on abortion on the internet, you might have encountered websites with conflicting and sometimes inaccurate information. The Royal Women’s Hospital has created a list of abortion myths and facts to help separate fact from fiction.

Follow-up care and emotional support

How you feel after an abortion will depend on your reasons for having one and how comfortable you were about your decision. The majority of women feel relieved and that they made the right decision for them at the time.

After the abortion, some women want to talk about their experiences with a doctor, nurse or professional counsellor. Issues such as physical and emotional recovery and contraceptive options are usually discussed.

For some women, professional, non-biased counselling can be valuable. In most cases, emotional distress peaks before the procedure and resolves soon after. After having the procedure, most women experience relief and the return of a feeling of control.

If you do find that you need additional support, please let your abortion provider know, as some providers may be able to provide follow-up support or refer you to an appropriate support service.

Important note: Some organisations that claim to offer non-biased counselling do not provide credible and balanced advice. They may be against abortion in all circumstances and may not be the right people to support you. Please see the list of non-biased support and information services below.

Where to get help

In most cases, you can start by contacting your GP. However, if you are not sure if your GP will be supportive, you may want to ring your GP clinic in advance to find a supportive, pro-choice doctor. If you need an interpreter, all GPs should be able to provide an interpreter service by phone.

Better Health Channel has more information about abortion services in Victoria.

You may also want to contact: 

  • The Royal Women’s Hospital:
    • Pregnancy Advisory Service (Royal Women’s Hospital information and support service) Tel. (03) 8345 3063
    • Interpreter services – the Women’s has face-to-face and telephone interpreters who specialise in women's health terminology and are familiar with women's health issues Tel. (03) 8345 3054 
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services – the Women’s has culturally appropriate support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to address social, emotional and cultural needs Tel (03) 8345 3048 
  • Family Planning Victoria Tel. (03) 9257 0121 or freecall 1800 013 952
  • If you’re under 25 you can contact The Action Centre Tel. (03) 9660 4700 or freecall 1800 013 952
  • Your local community health centre (remember to ask for a pro-choice doctor)
  • Women’s health service for your region (bottom of page) 

More information

Healthy pregnancy

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Keeping healthy during pregnancy

Health concerns during pregnancy

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Women's Health Victoria

Last updated: August 2017

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.