Concerns have been raised by women’s advocacy groups in South Australia following the release of new draft regulations which require comprehensive data to be provided by doctors regarding all abortions that are performed in the state.
Women’s Legal Services SA CEO Zita Ngor has warned that the new laws may “create additional barriers for women wanting to access abortions”, stating that “the draft regulations could exacerbate women’s trauma when seeking an abortion, making them less likely to go through with the procedure”.
“Requiring that level of detail … adds to the trauma that a woman is undergoing at such a difficult period in her life.”
The current laws, which are due to expire in September this year, already require details about abortions to be reported, including the grounds for termination of pregnancy, method of termination, post-operative complications or death. The new regulations will require additional details to be provided by doctors, including a patient’s name and address, the profession and speciality of the doctor performing the abortion, the fetus’ gender, whether an autopsy was performed on the fetus, whether information about counselling was provided to the patient, and whether the patient was admitted for treatment in connection with the abortion and the clinical outcomes of that admission.
South Australia decriminalised abortion in 2021, with legislators insisting that abortion must be treated as a “healthcare issue, not a criminal one”.
Until recently, South Australia was the only jurisdiction in Australia to collect and publish data related to the number of abortions performed each year. Western Australia became the second state to do so, with laws introduced in 1998 requiring a medical practitioner to notify the Chief Health Officer within 14 days after performing an abortion.
Understanding the prevalence of abortion in Australia and its impacts on women’s health is not straightforward, given the haphazard way in which abortion data is collected and reported in a federal system of government, where states and territories as well as the Federal Government have varying degrees of responsibility for the issue. Researchers have commented on the difficulty of estimating the national abortion rate, given most states don’t collect data, and published national data is incomplete.
A government spokesperson has responded to the criticisms of the news regulations, stating that “collecting patient information was already mandated for a number of health conditions and procedures, including cancer and perinatal services,” and in addition, “that the data was used to help health professionals plan for service delivery and to ensure patients received adequate care.”
“This regulation brings Termination of Pregnancy data collection in line with other health conditions and procedures across the system.
“The regulations were subject to extensive consultation with stakeholders, including leading abortion care physicians, clinicians, epidemiologists and legal experts.
“The information to be collected was deemed necessary to facilitate robust evaluation, research, data analysis and service planning for abortion care.”
Further, the spokesperson emphasised that “where an individual experiences post abortion complications, collecting data at an early stage helped ensure the provision of appropriate treatment to the patient.”
Advocates of abortion downplay abortion as being no different to other healthcare procedures that women undergo, and require it to be treated as such, while at the same time admitting that there is something uniquely traumatic about it, thereby necessitating a different approach to other ‘healthcare’ interventions, lest women be scared off or dissuaded in some way from accessing abortions.
Facilitating women’s health and wellbeing in the long term must involve evidence-based approaches that rely on the collection of detailed and accurate data in order to inform public health policy regarding this extremely fraught and complex issue. If abortion is indeed like any other ‘health’ procedures with little long term effects on women, the data will bear this out.
Burying heads in the sand when it comes to abortion data collection means that women are the losers in the long run – and a time may come in the future when they rightly ask why their best interests were not uppermost in the minds of legislators when passing ‘women-centric’ laws.