Mother duck sitting with ducklings


Termination, or abortion, is when a pregnant person decides to end a pregnancy by choice. People who have an abortion do so for many different reasons, it is a very personal choice. Considering terminating a pregnancy can be one of the most difficult and stressful decisions a person can make. If you are pregnant and looking for support, the Department of Health runs the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby website and helpline on 1800 882 436, where you can ask for a referral to a counsellor or local abortion service.


In Australia, it is legal to terminate a pregnancy through lawful abortion in all states and territories. However, legislation and accessibility vary across the country as abortion does not fall under the federal government. Anyone considering terminating a pregnancy should be aware of the law in their area, particularly relating to the gestation limit on when abortions can no longer be performed. A quick summary of local legislation is below, a more comprehensive explanation can be found on the Children by Choice website.

Legal up to 22 weeks gestation and after this time with the approval of two doctors.
Legal up to 24 weeks. After 24 weeks abortion is legal with approval of two doctors
Legal up to 22 weeks. After 22 weeks abortion is legal with approval of two doctors
Legal up to 20 weeks with some restrictions, particularly for under 16s. Restricted after 20 weeks.
Legal with the approval of two doctors who agree that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is endangered by pregnancy, or for serious foetal abnormality. Unlawful abortion is a crime.
Legal up to 16 weeks. After 16 weeks abortion is legal with approval of two doctors
Legal. Exclusion zones may be set at the discretion of the ACT Health Minister.
Legal up to 14 weeks with one doctor's approval. From 14 - 23 weeks abortion is legal with approval of two doctors. Not legal after 23 weeks unless it is performed to save a pregnant person's life.

Types of abortion

If you decide that termination is the right option for you, you may have a medical or surgical abortion. The procedure that is used depends on the gestation of the fetus and services available to you.

A medical abortion uses two medications to end a pregnancy and safely expel a pregnancy up to nine weeks gestation only. For a pregnancy to continue, large amounts of the hormone progesterone is needed. The first medication given in a medical abortion is Mifepristone. Mifepristone blocks progesterone and changes the lining of the uterus, this then causes the fetus to detach from the uterine wall. It also helps to open the cervix.

The second medication, Misoprostol, is taken 1-2 days later and causes uterine contractions, helping to expel the fetus and reduce the amount of blood loss. A medical abortion is about 95% successful, where all the tissue is expelled. For about 5% of women, a surgical procedure is also needed to complete the termination. Some side effects of the medications used include vomiting diarrhoea and fever. There is a risk of excessive vaginal bleeding, but this is rare.

Surgical abortion is generally performed after nine weeks gestation, when a medical abortion is no longer possible. There are two different procedures used, depending on the gestation of the pregnancy. For first trimester terminations up to 14 weeks, a vacuum curette can be performed. During a vacuum curette, a medication that softens the cervix may be given and the pregnancy is removed with gentle suction.

For later gestations a dilation and curettage (D & C) is done, this is a longer procedure. The cervix is first softened with medication and is opened wider using dilator rods, then instruments are used to remove the pregnancy, rather than suction. There is a higher risk associated with a D & C, including risk of injury to the uterus or cervix. However surgical abortion is considered a safe procedure when performed by a qualified health care provider.

A surgical abortion is completed with anaesthesia, the anaesthetist will discuss with you what is available. Most often a combination of a local anaesthetic and twilight anaesthetic is used. This means that you will not be ‘asleep’ for the procedure but will be sedated and have a drowsy/floating feeling, you will not feel pain. There are fewer risks to this type of anaesthetic compared to having a general anaesthetic, where you become unconscious and ‘go to sleep’.

Counselling may be accessed through abortion clinics, hospitals and other organisations. Womb would like to point out that Children by Choice is wary of the transparency of some counselling services. As explained on their website:

Because many Australian pregnancy counselling services are run on a not-for-profit basis (often by faith-based groups or their affiliates) and offer services for free or by donation, they are not subject to the trade practices legislation that regulates misinformation and false advertising.’ 

This means that it is possible for such services to claim to be non-biased or pro-choice, but in fact give false information with the possible intention of swaying your decision. When accessing a counselling service, you may consider speaking to a counsellor located within an abortion clinic for non-biased support.

Some women do not feel the need to speak with a professional and are comfortable making a decision after speaking with their partner and friends. If you prefer not to access a counsellor, Children by Choice have a detailed list of things you may wish to consider, freely available on their ‘making a decision’ page. 

Age of consent

Womb has found the minimum age of consent to be 16 years of age, but this may vary between states and territories. This means that if you are younger than 16, you may be required to get parental consent before accessing an abortion service. For further information, Womb recommends contacting the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 for information on your circumstances.

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