Weekend Health recently obtained government data on pregnancy terminations. It's not the full picture but a valuable snapshot of trends and comparisons in abortion supply and demand.
In 2008-09, 69,026 patients had 72,203 services under a Medicare item number the Department of Health and Ageing nominates as the most accurate indicator of abortion numbers, albeit with some caveats. That item number may cover services for other conditions but does not include abortions conducted in public hospitals or under third-party insurance arrangements.
The number of patients identified under that item number increased by less than 2 per cent since 2004-05. Numbers were down in NSW-ACT, Western Australia and South Australia-Northern Territory but up in other states.
The age group using the most services was the over-35s, with 16,592, followed by the 20 to 24age group with 16,049, the 25 to 29 group with 13,982, the 30 to 34 group with 12,821, and the 19 and younger group with 9841.
More women have those services in large cities (54,614) than inner regional (10,516) and outer regional or remote areas (4158), and the cost to Medicare in 2008-09 was $11,338,880.
Abortion and the issue of embryonic stem cell research have sparked some of the most emotive and divisive debates in federal parliament.
When he was health minister, Abbott handed $22 million over four years to an outspoken critic of ES cell research to establish an adult stem cell institute, bypassing National Health and Medical Research Council review. He also labelled the abortion rate a "national tragedy" and an "unutterable shame", and vowed to reduce the number of pregnancy terminations conducted in Australia.
"Somehow up to 100,000 abortions a year is accepted as a fact of life, almost by some as a badge of liberation from old oppressions," Abbott told parliament.
"We have a bizarre double standard in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman's baby is guilty of murder, but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice."
In that debate, Gillard felt the need to tell Abbott the discussion was "not about you, Tony," as Labor accused the conservative Christian of putting religion before policy. She suggested the debate take into account the broader issues around contraception, pregnancy and the treatment of women.
"If we were to truly live in a world where abortion was safe, legal and rare, then we would need to live in a world where there was no sexual violence against women . . . where contraception never failed," Gillard said at the time.
"I wish we lived in that world, and we should all be striving to attain it, but the stark reality is that we do not."
Abbott lost ministerial control of the RU-486 drug, and the hotline he established to dissuade women from having an abortion last month became a broader parents' helpline.
Yet, even though former leaders such as John Howard and Kevin Rudd have actively pursued the Christian vote, Abbott isn't using abortion as leverage.
He was uncharacteristically brief this week when asked if he would block RU-486, list abortion as a separate Medicare item number to aid research or ban Medicare funding for terminations.
"The answer is no, we're not going to do any of those things," he said. "We have no plans whatsoever for any change in that area."
Gillard hasn't been drawn on the issue, but a spokesman for Labor's campaign echoed Abbott, saying no changes were planned.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Facts and Figures: On abortion in Australia ("with some caveats") (plus the respective histories and policies of Ms Gillard and Mr. Abbott on it)
The following comes from an article which appeared on what was presumably page ten of the "Health" section of the "Weekend Professional" supplement of last Saturday's edition of The Weekend Australian:
Feast of St. Hyacinth, Confessor, A.D. 2010