Estimating Australia’s abortion rates 1985–2003

Annabelle Chan and Leonie C Sage
Med J Aust 2005; 182 (9): 447-452.


Aim: To estimate national rates of induced abortion in Australia from 1985 to 2003, using Medicare claim statistics for private patients and hospital morbidity statistics for public patients.

Design and setting: Estimates were based on Australian and South Australian data collections relating to abortions. SA hospital morbidity statistics were compared with SA statutory notifications of abortions to estimate the accuracy of these collections. Medicare statistics on abortion procedures performed on private patients in South Australia were then compared with hospital morbidity statistics for private patients. National statistics on abortion derived from Medicare and hospital morbidity statistics were adjusted for inaccuracies found in these sources.

Main outcome measures: Numbers of induced abortions in Australia for each year from 1985 to 2003; abortion rates per 1000 women aged 15–44 years.

Results: Abortion numbers based on Medicare claims by private patients overestimated by 18.7% the number of abortions derived from statutory notifications in South Australia during the period 1988–89 to 1999–00. Hospital morbidity data using principal diagnosis codes relating to medical abortion overestimated statutory notifications by 2.3% (mainly because of readmissions). National statistics were adjusted for these overestimations and for the estimated 14.1% of private patients who would not have submitted Medicare claims (based on surveys of private-clinic patients in New South Wales and Victoria). The estimated Australian abortion rate increased from 17.9 per 1000 women aged 15–44 in 1985 to a peak of 21.9/1000 in 1995, then declined to 19.7/1000 in 2003 (estimated number of abortions, 84 460).

Conclusion: There are no data currently available for deriving accurate numbers of induced abortions in Australia. Suggestions are made for collection of national statistics.

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  • Annabelle Chan1
  • Leonie C Sage2

  • Epidemiology Branch, Department of Health, Adelaide, SA.



We would like to thank the National Centre for Classification in Health and the Medical Record Advisory Unit of the SA Department of Health for advice about coding; the Medicare Benefits Branch of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing for Medicare statistics; the Casemix Costing Section of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing for national hospital morbidity statistics; Julie Mitchell, Manager of the Integrated South Australian Activity Collection (ISAAC), Kelvin Watson of the Data Operations Centre, and Kevin Priest of the Health Statistics Unit, Epidemiology Branch, SA Department of Health, for SA hospital morbidity statistics; and Maureen Fisher of the Pregnancy Outcome Unit, SA Department of Health, for preparing the graph. We also thank Jeffrey Robinson, Chair of the SA Abortion Reporting Committee, for his helpful comments.

Competing interests:

None identified. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.

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