Australia: Abortion likely much lower than Federal Govt claims Print E-mail
Sydney Morning Herald -- Wednesday  March 2 2005

Abortion statistics overstated - research

By Stephanie Peatling

The number of abortions carried out in Australia each year could be much
lower than estimates being relied on by health professionals and the Federal
Government.

But research by the Parliamentary Library concludes the exact figure - which
could be as little as a third of the accepted estimates, according to some
doctors - is almost impossible to calculate unless it becomes mandatory for
all medical facilities to specifically report numbers of abortions to health
departments.

Even if such changes were made - which is unlikely since the states are
resistant to any alteration of the present arrangements - they would not
provide a demographic breakdown of the women having the procedures.

"Calls for accurate or 'truthful' information on the number of abortions in
Australia will not be able to be answered unless modification to current
systems of statistical collection takes place," the research paper concluded.

This was because women having abortions as public patients in public
hospitals do not claim a Medicare rebate, leaving them uncounted, and not
all women who have abortions as private patients necessarily claim the
Medicare rebate.

The library research used figures from the Health Insurance Commission,
which collects data from Medicare-funded procedures, and information
supplied by hospitals to the National Hospital Morbidity Database.

However, both sets of figures have problems.

Figures from the Health Insurance Commission show less than 73,000
Medicare-funded procedures were performed last year, compared with about
75,700 in 1995.

However, the figure for actual abortions is likely to be much lower -
doctors suggested as low as 20,000 a year to 65,000 a year - because they
cannot be separated from other procedures such as work done as a result of a
miscarriage, foetal death or other gynaecological conditions.

It also does not include terminations performed after 24 weeks.

Another problem with the figures, according to the research, is that the
commission data only includes procedures on private patients who claim a
Medicare rebate.

There is also no way of counting the number of women who choose not to claim
the rebate - which raises the possibility the number of abortions could also
be underestimated.

Figures collected by hospitals for reporting to the National Hospital
Morbidity Database separate public and private patients and show that while
there has been a decline in procedures at public hospitals there has been an
increase in procedures at private hospitals.

But again, the research stresses, the figures could be both overstated -
because a termination was not carried out - or understated, because
terminations carried out after 20 weeks are counted differently.

The research means it is unlikely the Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, will
be able to satisfy all the questions on the issue put to him by the
Queensland senator Ron Boswell at the end of January. Senator Boswell placed
16 questions on notice that, in effect, amount to an inquiry on abortion.

The questions include asking for any research linking women who have had
abortions with higher rates of breast cancer or mental illness, as well as
the statistical profile of women who have had abortions, including age,
income, marital status, number of children, location and the reason they
sought the procedure.

Ministers are usually obliged to reply within one month, but a spokesman for
Senator Boswell said last night that the answers were not expected for at
least another fortnight.