Rate of abortion

September 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

This post contains available data on the number of abortions in Australia, and what percentage of pregnancies that represents. Nobody actually needs data in order to form an opinion or take part – on either side of the debate. Anyway:

Aborted pregnancies / Total pregnancies = Abortion rate?

First, abortions.

There was some research done on this back in 2005, possibly because the then (Howard government) Minister for Health and Ageing (who served in that role from October 2003 to December 2007 and is now in a different role) was someone with a keen interest.

The report, Use of routinely collected national data sets for reporting on induced abortion in Australia, is here.

The Executive Summary states that the methodology developed for this report ‘will be used…to regularly report on the estimated number of induced abortions in Australia’ but I can’t seem to find any more in this series.

Not enough keen interest, I guess.

Induced abortion is defined as ‘the termination of pregnancy through medical or surgical intervention.’ There are quite a few qualifications and assumptions applied to the data, but eventually the authors state:

Overall, the estimated number of induced abortions in Australia in 2003 was 84,218.

Next, pregnancies.

We count births in the Australia’s Mothers and Babies series. The 2005 report is here.

In 2003, there were 256,925 babies born. This includes 1826 still born babies. If you discount twins (8,358), triplets (228) and quads (16) and pretend they were singletons, then you get 252,582 pregnancies resulting in birth. I removed multiple births from the denominator because multiple fetuses are excluded from the numerator. (I assumed that aborted pregnancies are multiples at about the same rate as continued pregnancies.)

If we add the 84,128 aborted pregnancies to the 252,582 completed pregnancies we get 336,800 pregnancies in total.

84,128 / 336,800 is exactly 25 per cent. Does that mean one in four pregnancies in this country are aborted? No, it doesn’t. One, I didn’t (couldn’t) count miscarriages. It is estimated that up to one in four pregnancies end in spontaneous miscarriage (though a large proportion of these occur before the woman knows she is pregnant). Two, an unknown number of abortions remove non-viable fetuses; a kind of medically-assisted miscarriage that is no parent’s ‘convenient exit’.

But for every 100 pregnancies that result in birth, a further 30 or so are deliberately terminated.

I guess I’m wondering:

Should we have a target abortion rate in this country, and if so, what should the target be? Should it be lower than that? Could it be lower than that if we did a better job of providing other stuff like contraception, the morning after pill, supportive social security, and family-friendly workplaces?

Maybe the answer is, ‘It’s completely irrelevant since the number of abortions we need is exactly the same as the number of abortions women want’?

But can we even have a conversation about the abortion rate without being crushed by passion and prejudice, religion and righteousness? A conversation that acknowledges the complexity of people’s positions on abortion and doesn’t automatically reduce the debate to ‘If you’re not totally with us, you’re totally against us’? A conversation that allows that there might be shades of grey in amongst the black and white?

I can’t be the only one who’s conflicted. Can I?

Oh, and tell me if my maths is wrong.


§ 2 Responses to Rate of abortion

  • I think your piece does demonstrate very clearly the necessity for data to be as accurate as possible [and I’m not questioning any of these data because I simply have no way of verifying them, but let’s assume they’re reasonably correct.] I’d just make two points.

    1. You’re right when you say that a target rate is irrelevant. The rate will be whatever it is, and in the hypothetical case where there was a ‘target’, what are you going to do when it’s filled? No more allowed for the year? That would be crazy of course. All debating the idea would do is generate much heat with no light.

    2. What is critical for the data to have real meaning is to know more about who, e.g., socio-economic status; and why, and that infringes privacy as well as making assumptions about consequences that can’t be tested.

    Thanks for the data. I’m a bit surprised the rate is quite as high as that, but this simply shows how little I know about the reality.

    @deniswright deniswright.blogspot.com

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