A new La Trobe study found that Australian abortion costs are a financial strain for many and poor knowledge and geographical barriers restrict method choice for women.
The study was conducted by researchers at our Judith Lumley Centre, which was established in 1999 to provide a multi-disciplinary, women-centred approach to mother, infant and family health.
Former Centre Director, Professor Angela Taft, led the study. ‘I’m very interested in the prevention and reduction of abortion,’ she says, ‘but am still a strong believer in the right of women to access abortion if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy.’
Access and equity
Since Mifepristone, also known as RU486 or the ‘abortion pill’, was made available in Victoria under the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2013, Professor Taft and her colleague’s study is the first to look into the access, equity and costs of medical and surgical abortions in Australia.
‘When Mifepristone came to Australia, many of us who believed in women’s reproductive rights wondered whether it would be cheaper and more accessible than surgical abortion,’ Professor Taft explains.
Professor Taft says her team was ‘taken aback’ by the proportion of women who experienced financial difficulties and who were unable to get to the clinic in time, due to living in rural or remote areas. Professor Taft says these women ‘were more likely to be disadvantaged and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’.
‘The main finding is that medical and surgical abortions are roughly equal in cost, and it’s $500 which is a lot of money for many women.’
‘Women had an average of $150 extra out of pocket cost to do with childcare, transport and other hidden costs,’ Professor Taft explains. ‘Particularly for poorer women, that’s quite a financial impost.’
‘From my other research into violence against women, I know that women experiencing abusive relationships are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies and are much more likely to need an abortion – and to be disadvantaged.’
Taft says ‘really, that’s not good enough.’
This study is supported by a second (currently unpublished) study that surveys 2,000 Australian women aged 18 to 35, and asks: how many of these women had an unintended pregnancy? Out of the unintended pregnancies, how many were unwanted and of those, what happened?
‘Did they carry the pregnancy to term? Did they miscarry? Did they terminate? If they did, did they have a choice and what did it cost them?’
Once this study is published, Professor Taft and research partners at Women’s Health Victoria and Marie Stopes will work on policy briefs and recommendations for government that will have real world impact.
Judith Lumley Centre
This important research is part of the work that our Judith Lumley Centre does. The Centre was established in 1991, under the name for Centre for the Study of Mothers’ and Children’s Health by Professor Emerita Judith Lumley.
‘Judith did two very outstanding things: she established the Peri-Natal Data Collection Unit and started a very rigorous form of data collection about births and mothers in the Department of Health, which is still on-going.
‘She also did the very first population study of Victorian women who had given birth, called the Survey of Recent Mothers, which was repeated every five years, because she was interested in what women themselves thought about their birthing experiences.
‘She started a culture within the Centre of a woman-centred approach of actually being interested in what women had to say – rather than only doctors and nurses.’
Professor Taft says the Centre was established to bring the perspective of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies together ‘to get a richer picture of what’s happening for women, their babies and families.’
Professor Taft joined the Centre in 1999 to pursue post-doctoral study. With two post-doctoral offers, Professor Taft chose the Judith Lumley Centre ‘because it’s a very supportive atmosphere and, as a result, is a very enabling place.’
‘The Centre has also maintained a very strong approach to rigour and high quality. We’ve been very successful with National Health and Medical Research Council and Australia Research Council grants,’ says Professor Taft.
‘We’ve always wanted to maintain a very high quality standard while at the same time producing policy-useful and applied research to make a difference to the lives of mothers, babies and families.’
Find out more about our Judith Lumley Centre and their vital research.