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Unplanned pregnancy in Australia

It is estimated that almost half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned [1].

No contraception method is 100% effective. While some methods may technically be 98-99% effective, the effectiveness of some methods like the pill and condoms are reduced when allowing for human error - what's referred to as 'typical use' is often lower than 'perfect use' [2]. Even when used correctly and consistently, contraceptive methods can fail: the World Health Organisation estimates that if every couple used contraception perfectly every single time they had sex, there would still be six million unplanned pregnancies each year worldwide [3]. Abstinence is usually not a realistic contraception option for most people across their entire reproductive lifespan.

6 million UPP each year

Sometimes women may not be in a position to negotiate contraceptive use, due to the effects of alcohol or other drugs, lack of power in relationship decision-making, or being forced or coerced into having sex. Other barriers to women accessing contraception include lack of information about options, geographic location (particularly women living in rural areas), cost, lack of culturally appropriate services or health workers, privacy concerns, or medical practitioners refusing to prescribe due to their personal beliefs and values.

Family Planning NSW's 'Reproductive and sexual health in Australia' resource states: 

"Similar to other developed countries, two-thirds of Australian women of reproductive age use contraception and up to 85% of women have ever used contraception. Oral contraception use was most common (27 to 34%), followed by condom use (20 to 23%), vasectomy (8.5 to 12%) and tubal ligation (4.1 to 8.6%). Very few women used long acting reversible contraception (LARCs) with injectable contraception accounting for 0.9 to 2.1% of contraceptive use with similar proportions of use for the implant (1.1 to 3.6%) and intrauterine contraceptive methods (IUDs) (1.2 to 3.2%). Conversely, use of oral contraception and sterilisation was more common in Australia than in other developed countries, but use of IUDs was much less common." [4]

30 years avoiding pregnancy

Methods of long acting reversible contraception (LARC) are now available in Australia and have much higher efficacy rates that the pill or condoms [2], but can have high upfront costs associated with insertion and while considerable work is being undertaken by sexual and reproductive health advocacy bodies and service providers, uptake of LARC methods in Australia is still relatively low compared to other developed countries [1]. Expanding access to these methods of contraception by making them more available and affordable would greatly assist in lowering the rate of unplanned pregnancy in Australia. 

51 percent have an UPP

Unplanned pregnancy is a reality of women's lives. It is important that women have access to correct information and non-directive support about their three options - parenting, abortion and adoption.

Counselling for unplanned pregnancy 

Not every unplanned pregnancy is unwanted, but many women will be faced with a decision about what the best option is for them and their family in this situation.

Some women experiencing unplanned pregnancy contact agencies such as Children by Choice to find out more information about their options. While it is important to have pregnancy counselling available for women considering their options, many women will not choose to use it and it should not be mandatory to be 'counselled' on pregnancy choices. 

Most women talk to their partner or the man involved in the pregnancy, or confide in a good friend or close relative. Three quarters of women told a national survey about unplanned pregnancy options that they felt no need to speak to a counsellor in order to make their decision [5].

75 percent dont want UPP counselling

When trying to make a decision about an unplanned pregnancy, women usually try to identify which option they will cope with best. In order to identify which option is best it is important that women have accurate information on all their options.

In Australia, pregnancy counselling services run from an anti-abortion standpoint are not required to state this in their advertising or service brochures. This can lead to distressing experiences for women calling a service they believe to be all options only to be lectured on abortion or refused a referral. See our separate fact sheet on pregnancy counselling in Australia

Outcomes

There is no national data collection on pregnancy outcomes in Australia. One study conducted in 2006 found that: 

"Parenting was the most, and adoption the least, popular choice for resolving an unplanned pregnancy. The majority of women (56%) resolved their unplanned pregnancy by choosing to parent. The next largest group (29%) chose abortion, while just 2% chose adoption. Thirteen percent (13%) of women miscarried." [5] 

 

parenting most popular with UPP

Parenting

Australia's overall fertility rate steadily declined for 40 years after the baby boom of 1961, to a low of 1.73 babies per woman in 2001, then increased to a high of 2.0 in 2008. The fertility rate in 2013 was 1.88 [6]. The rise in fertility has mostly been seen in women older than 30, with an increasing age at first birth amongst Australian women.

The teenage pregnancy rate has been steadily declining over the past few decades, from 55.5 per 1000 women in 1971 to 14.6 in 2013 [6] [7], but is still relatively high compared to other developed countries. As with women of any age, young women who experience higher socio-economic disadvantage also experience a higher birth rate. Teen birth rates are also higher in rural and remote areas than in metropolitan areas [8]

teen fertility rates

A woman's decision to become a parent is often embedded in a range of cultural and society constructs; however, the face of parenting and of families has changed significantly in Australia over recent decades and there is now a diversity of arrangements that people choose to embark on in order to raise their children, including single parenting. This is partly due to the rise in acceptance of single parenting and diverse family arrangements.

Whether in a 'traditional' family unit or not, some women will face many challenges in raising their children. It is important that women and their children are supported through these challenges; Children by Choice can provide referrals to many pregnancy and parenting support groups for women and their children.

Abortion

All Australian states have some abortion services however the availability varies, with some states allowing abortion up to 24 weeks gestation. Western Australia and South Australia are the only two states routinely collect data on pregnancy termination, and they both report that over 90% of pregnancy terminations in Australia occur in the first 14 weeks [9], [10]. No national statistics are available. 

In most states, services are provided in private clinics only, so patients will pay some out-of-pocket expenses. In Queensland, the cost of a termination has quadrupled since 2000, and while private clinics offer very high quality services, increasing numbers of women are struggling to pay for a procedure. Costs are higher in clinics based in regional and northern areas of Queensland, and women from rural and remote town and communities often face additional costs and barriers due to travel and accommodation - only three clinics operate north of the Sunshine Coast. A small number of GPs across the state provide medication abortion to nine weeks gestation; this has made a difference for some women but considerable barriers to access remain. 

A court case decision in 1986 means that abortion can be lawfully provided in Queensland when there is serious risk to the woman’s physical and mental health if the pregnancy continues, but abortion remains the only medical procedure included within the Queensland Criminal Code. See our Queensland abortion law page for more information.

up to 1 in 3 will have an abortion

Adoption

The number of adoptions in Australia has declined steeply since the 1970s [11] due to a rise in the acceptance of, and government financial support for, single and unmarried parents, and improved access to contraceptives and abortion services. The 1970s also saw the beginning of the end of the forced adoption practices that created long-lasting harm for pregnant unmarried women and their children [12]

Now, between 8 to 12 local adoptions of infants occur in Queensland every year. See our adoption fact sheet for more information on these issues, or our adoption information for pregnant women for details on adoption processes in Queensland.

 

References

1. D Mazza, C Harrison, A Taft, B Brijnath, H Britt, M Hobbs, K Stewart, S Hussainy 'Current contraceptive management in Australian general practice: an analysis of BEACH data' Medical Journal of Australia 2012; 197 (2): 110-114. Available online at https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2012/197/2/current-contraceptive-management-australian-general-practice-analysis-beach-data

2. Contraceptive efficacy Family Planning Queensland (True) fact sheet, July 2013. Available online at http://www.true.org.au/Reproductive-health/Health-information/contraception

3. Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems World Health Organisation, Geneva 2003 p12. Available online at http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/en/

4. Family Planning NSW. Reproductive and sexual health in Australia. Ashfield, Sydney: FPNSW, 2013. Available online at http://familyplanningallianceaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/rshinaust_book_webedition_1.pdf

5. What women want when faced with an unplanned pregnancy Research by WebSurvey, commissioned by Marie Stopes International Australia. November 2006. Available online at http://www.mariestopes.org.au/data-and-research/what-women-want-when-faced-with-unplanned-pregnancy/

6. 'Fertility rates' Births Australia 2013, Australian Bureau of Statistics. Available online at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/3301.0Main%20Features42013?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3301.0&issue=2013&num=&view 

7. 'Teenage fertility' Australian Demographic Statistics 2000, Australian Bureau of Statistics. Available online at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/DBF3DB6CCF56413ECA2569DE002139C3?OpenDocument

8. A Larson 'Investigating an increase in teenage pregnancies in regional Australia' Crikey 24 January 2013. Available online at http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2013/01/24/investigating-an-increase-in-teenage-pregnancies-in-regional-australia/

9. J Straton, K Godman, V Gee, & Q Hu (2006) Induced abortion in Western Australia 1999-2005.Report of the WA Abortion Notification System. Department of Health. Perth, Western Australia. Available online at https://www.health.wa.gov.au/publications/documents/AbortionReport1999-2005FINAL(4).pdf.

10. A Chan, W Scheil, J Scott, A-M Nguyen, L Sage Pregnancy Outcome in South Australia 2009 Pregnancy Outcome Unit, SA Health, Government of South Australia. Adelaide, 2011 p55. Available online at http://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/about+us/health+statistics/pregnancy+outcome+statistics

11. Past and present adoptions in Australia Australian Institute of Family Studies 2012. Available online at https://aifs.gov.au/publications/past-and-present-adoptions-australia.

12. Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Practices and Policies Report by the Commonwealth Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, tabled on 29 February 2012. Available online at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/report/index.

Last modified on: 05 July 2016
Unplanned pregnancy in Australia
05 July 2016