15 Jan 2007, Comments Off on Blog for Choice day

Blog for Choice day

Author: Helen

Image from http://www.bushvchoice.com/blog_choice_day.html

Something I didn’t know: January 22 is the anniversary of Roe V Wade. I just found that out from Pandagon. I also learned that January 22 is Blog for Choice day.

As my own personal contribution to that, I’d like to investigate the factoid that Australia enjoys 100,000 elective abortions a year.

This comfortably round statistic (and its very neatness, and the fact it never changes from one year to the next, should make you suspicious at once), is employed constantly by anti-abortionists in the mainstream media. It depends on a disingenuous (or ignorant) interpretation of the word “abortion”.

First up, the statistics on abortion are problematic. But what statistics there are have come from Medicare items which are assigned numbers and basic descriptions.

In medical language, “abortion” simply means a pregnancy not carried to term. As anyone who has lost a pregnancy will know, women who miscarry usually undergo various procedures that overlap with, or are identical to, the procedures used in elective abortion. This is because infection may occur if the uterus isn’t emptied of its contents.

Therefore, the “100,000 abortions a year” figure is based on the medical definition of abortion – that is, spontaneous abortions of wanted pregnancies, as well as elective abortions. But the people who use this statistic don’t tell you that. They let you think that these “abortions” are all elective. Some of them probably aren’t even aware of the problem.

This obstetrician, interviewed in 2004, says:

CARLTON: Right. So let me just sum that up if I can, and put it into, I hope, simple language. Correct me if I’m wrong. Under this Medicare treatment, as a specific number for a specific procedure, some of those would be abortions, but a great many of them, and perhaps the majority, would be to deal with simple miscarriages–

PESCE: Yes, I believe–

CARLTON: –and the like.

PESCE: Yes, I believe that the majority are for what you would consider a miscarriage, yes.

CARLTON: What sort of majority do you think?

PESCE: Look, I would only be speculating, all right? All I can say is in my personal practice over 90 per cent would be for non-viable pregnancies.

CARLTON: So the number of abortions might be only 10 per cent, and the number of non-viable pregnancies and miscarriages and so on could be 90 per cent?

PESCE: It’s possible, yes.

CARLTON: Right. So this figure being thrown around of 100,000 abortions in Australia each year, is simply not – in no way accurate?

PESCE: Well, it might be accurate, but it’s not accurate if you’re basing it on the Medicare statistics.

Yes, it’s over two years old, but the anti-abortionists have been peddling the same figure for much longer than that.

The Marie Stopes website quotes a WEL estimate of 25,000.

I’ve written to the AGE twice recently to point out that the 100,000 abortions a year thing is a factoid and they should stop publishing it so uncritically – it’s one thing to have it embedded in a quote by Abbott and Co, and quite another to have it in an opinion article by one of their staff writers, or in the Letters page, with no disclaimer. Is Fairfax quietly pushing the anti-choice agenda? Doesn’t anyone there notice that they’re printing a false statistic almost daily?

Dear reader, do you know of any statistics or sources on the actual number of elective abortions in Australia? If so, could you kindly furnish them forthwith in a comment in time for Blog for Choice day? Thanks!

Comments (0)

  • Zoe says:

    SA has the best stats, the most up to date of which are here.

    But yep, nobody really knows.

  • helen – its complicated. Broadly the figure includes all curettes etc for any reason. From memory there is no indication if a pregnancy has even been tested for.

  • Helen says:

    That’s what I said FX. Did I obfuscate?

    And it doesn’t matter whether a pregnancy has been tested for or not – it’s just the number of curettes full stop.

  • A curette may be performed for a number of reasons not connected with a miscarriage or a pregnancy or possible pregnancy of any kind.

  • kate says:

    the statistical inaccuracy grates, but the numbers don’t really bother me, it’s a distraction. the problem really is that some people don’t think women can make these decisions for themselves. it’s a moral issue, either it’s ok or it isn’t (so the numbers aren’t important) to deliberately terminate a pregnancy.

    and I’m pretty offended by the idea that Tony Abbott or anyone else’s personal morality should influence a discussion that is rightly between me, my partner and my doctor.

  • Helen says:

    Kate – the post wasn’t so much about the anti abortionists (I expect them to play dirty) as the media – the broadsheet dead tree media, ABC and others relay the statistic year after year without question.

    FX – that’s true (fibroids etc?).

  • Thanks for blogging about blogging for choice – this issue of ‘abortions’ vs ‘curettes’ is something that has vexed me for ages. The women who have had abortions have a right to privacy, so I don’t support them getting a special medicare number to identify the procedure, but I find if offensive that a traumatic miscarriage ends up being something Tony Abbott uses to flog his particular socio-religious world view.

  • Helen says:

    The women who have had abortions have a right to privacy, so I don’t support them getting a special medicare number to identify the procedure,

    Yes that is a problem.
    Oh and thanks to Zoe for the SA stats.

  • brownie says:

    Just for a moment let us agree with the stats.
    and just for a moment let us agree with the Every Sperm Is Sacred Team.

    that would mean that over the past 5 years there would have been half a million more children born, than actually were.

    and that would mean that for the start of THIS SCHOOL YEAR

    there would have to be
    100,000 MORE places in Grade one than there are right now, including buildings and teachers.

    100,000 pairs of New School Shoes would be getting measured up across the tiny feet of the land, and the mothers would need 100,000 more parking spaces at shopping malls to do this.

    are you starting to see why THEY just want breeders?

    and an extra 100,000 multiplied by The $4000 Baby Bonus would have to be found …

  • brownie says:

    I have a very strong view that only women who have had a termination and who have raised a child, should be allowed to voice any opinion on the matter.
    That excludes all men, Popes and politicians.

    Come over to AUSTRALIAN WOMENS FORUM where me an Suki and Zoe rant and rave at will.

  • suki says:

    Thanks for letting me know about ‘Blog for choice day’ Helen.

    *sigh* 34 years we’ve been fighting for choice and for a good long while in there we could put our placards down somewhat.

    Now we have to make sure our girlchildren can access the reproductive rights we have, should they ever need them.

    I’ll be dusting off both the placard and the keyboard!

  • […] Join us or read what we write or do both. […]

  • saint says:

    FX – that’s true (fibroids etc?).

    Much as I am all for reducing abortion, I am glad you are highlighting the slipperiness of this little factoid. Zoe is correct to point out that only SA keeps reasonable stats…but that also depends on women claiming Medicare for abortion procedures (some do not).

    I have found this discussion paper useful and have referred to it in comments around the blogs in the past.

    I think (but don’t quote me) that there have also been some recent changes (again) to Medicare item numbers.

  • The paper that saint lonks to is the one I would use when trying to tease out the figures.
    A few things to keep in mind:

    Any terminations (and many other procedures) perfomed in public hospitals as a public patient are not recorded in Medicare figures as they are not Medicare billed.

    Quote: “It is not possible to determine with any degree of precision what proportion of Medicare claims for these item numbers are for pregnancy terminations, since Medicare claims for actual abortions cannot be disaggregated from the other procedures claimed under these item numbers”

    Estimates from reliable people who could provide “good professional estimates” vary widely / wildly from “three-quarters (3/4) of procedures under the relevant Medicare item 35643 are for non -viable pregnancies rather than terminations” to individual clinics or groups of clinic claiming that ” a little as 3 – 5% but more likely 15% of item 35643 services are non -viable pregnancies”

    A Victorian study found that between 13.1 per cent and 33.8 per cent of women who had abortions in Victoria may not claim the Medicare rebate, and thus up to 33.8 per cent of private pregnancy terminations may not be recorded in the HIC’s Medicare data.

    Briefly current data….

    …potentially over-counts abortion numbers, since it includes procedures ..which are not pregnancy terminations

    ..does not include pregnancy terminations performed on public patients

    … excludes women who have terminations in private settings, but do not claim a Medicare rebate, and

    I think it’s worth naming the paper for the search engines and posterity:

    Research Brief no. 9 2004–05
    How many abortions are there in Australia? A discussion of abortion statistics, their limitations, and options for improved statistical collection
    Angela Pratt, Amanda Biggs and Luke Buckmaster
    Social Policy Section – Australian Parliament
    14 February 2005

  • This piece from the Medical Journal of Australia has a go at estimating Australia’s abortion rates from 1985-2003 (which starts off by acknowledging how difficult this is to do)

    Apart from anything else, it makes the useful point that talking about a rate (such as number per 1000 women aged between 15-44) is more meaningful than an overall figure, as the overall number will be higher as the total population grows.

    Given how poisonously political this issue can be, I’m not convinced of the benefits in requiring a specially defined Medicare number just so we can have a more precise figure to have an argument about. As I think Kate’s comment is saying, just focusing on a number or whether it’s going up or down is not really the core of this issue.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks muchly for that FX, ta…

  • Helen says:

    Given how poisonously political this issue can be, I’m not convinced of the benefits in requiring a specially defined Medicare number just so we can have a more precise figure to have an argument about.

    Absolutely. agree. And agree with Kate too. But people are always throwing the factoid around to demonstrate how bad things are. Which is false. And again, it’s the complicity of the news media in spreading it around which I object to. Given that it’s them that’s supposed to do all the fact checking and us bloggers are so inaccurate ‘n all.

  • sorry, I think I meant “politically poisonous”, rather than “poisonously political” – although both fit in their own way.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.