An abortion protest in NSW (Image: AAP/Peter Rae)

The US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade signals a dark time for women. Lives will be lost as reproductive rights are stripped away.

The anti-abortion lobby has successfully pushed its narrative that banning abortions saves lives, that abortion is always a choice, and that late-term abortions are common. There are a number of harmful lies peddled by these anti-women groups, both in the US and in Australia. Here are the facts. 

Fact: abortion is healthcare

Abortions are medically necessary health interventions. Up to one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage before 20 weeks (and about half of all fertilised eggs die, often before a woman knows she is pregnant).

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More than 50% of all women who miscarry require medical intervention consisting of medication to speed up the miscarriage or a procedure that prevents infection by cutting out pregnancy tissue that remains in the uterus. This is crucial during a missed miscarriage — where the pregnancy has stopped growing but hasn’t passed. 

Unplanned pregnancies are not the only reason to seek an abortion. It can be due to contraception failure — no contraception is 100% effective even when used effectively, and not every woman can access or use contraceptives. It can be due to violence, rape or intimate partner violence. Women may seek abortions due to foetal anomalies, or illness during pregnancy. 

Pregnancy carries a number of risks. In Australia, one in 100 women experiences severe complications with their pregnancies. Australia has one of the lowest maternal death rates in the world at 6.7 deaths per 100,000 women giving birth, and terminating dangerous pregnancies attributes to this low death rate.

There are major concerns in the US that pregnant women may be denied healthcare, such as chemotherapy, if they are pregnant, prioritising the foetus’ survival over the woman’s. 

Myth: late-term abortions are common

Medical abortions — taking two pills to stop a pregnancy — can be used up to nine weeks’ gestation in Australia. The pills are low-risk, available via Telehealth and the preferred method if the pregnancy is noticed in time. Since 2001, surgical abortions halved in Australia, largely thanks to the introduction of medical abortion in 2006 and adding these medications to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2013. 

But women have to be prescribed the medication at just eight weeks’ gestation — that’s before many women realise they’re pregnant. Of the 88,000 abortions that took place in Australia between 2017 and 2018, almost 21,000 were medical. 

Most abortions in Australia take place during the first trimester of pregnancy, and late-term abortions are rare. Most abortions that take place after 20 weeks are due to the foetus being diagnosed with a severe abnormality, which can only be diagnosed at the 19-week mark. 

Myth: criminalising abortions stops them

The United Nations estimates that 25 million unsafe abortions take place every year, killing nearly 50,000 women. Worldwide, 48% of all induced abortions are unsafe, accounting for an estimated 13% of maternal deaths.

About one in five pregnancies end in induced abortions. Abortions occur at more than double the rate in low-income countries than in high-income countries due to the affordability and availability of contraception. 

In high-income countries, including Australia, the abortion rate is 15 per 1000 women.

Myth: young, single women seek abortions

About one in six women in Australia and New Zealand have had an abortion by their mid-30s. While women in their 20s and single were more likely to have an abortion, women with children are more likely to have an abortion than women without children. 

It’s not just cis-women who seek abortions either: transgender and non-binary people also experience unwanted pregnancies and face structural barriers to accessing abortion services. In the US, one-third of non-gender-conforming people considered accessing an unsafe abortion over a clinical one.

Myth: abortions are accessible across Australia

The overturning of Roe v Wade is not likely to affect Australia’s abortion laws. Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights and abortion legislation is dealt with by states and territories, with abortion decriminalised everywhere but Western Australia. 

But that doesn’t mean abortion is accessible: it’s been called a “postcode lottery”, with women in regional areas forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to access a surgical abortion. Doctors can also conscientiously object to providing abortions, a major issue in regional areas with religious hospitals. 

In some states, such as NSW, medical abortions are available through private providers and cost hundreds of dollars.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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