It is fundamentally the right of someone who is pregnant to determine what happens to their own body, and therefore choose how to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy. If someone chooses to end a pregnancy you helped to conceive, there are a few things you need to understand: your role in the decision-making process, what an abortion involves, how you can best support someone having one and how to navigate your feelings about it.
What is abortion
An abortion (or termination) is the process of ending a pregnancy. In Australia, abortion is legal (under certain circumstances and when it is done by a registered doctor), safe and common, with one in four women of reproductive age having had one in their lifetime. Each state and territory have different regulations and guidelines regarding abortion, but every state or territory has abortion providers who support access to abortion care.
There are two types of abortion: medical and surgical. Medical (or medication) abortion is the use of drugs to end an early pregnancy and it’s generally available up to nine weeks from the first day of a woman's last period. A surgical abortion is a day-surgery procedure, usually carried out between seven to 12 weeks from the first day of a woman's last menstrual period.
Second-trimester abortion is a surgical procedure that terminates a pregnancy after 14 weeks. Each state and territory has a different gestation at which abortion must be approved by two doctors, ranging from 16 to 24 weeks pregnancy gestation and onwards.
The out-of-pocket cost of an abortion will depend on what type it is, how far the pregnancy has proceeded and whether you’re using a public service or a private clinic. GPs and hospitals may offer bulk billing, or it’s partly covered by Medicare. The medication for a medical abortion costs around $50 while consultations at a clinic can cost up to several hundred dollars. Apart from the cost of the actual procedure, some people may be able to have abortion medication delivered to their homes while other people may need to travel to get an abortion. Abortion services are not easily accessible in rural and remote areas, and depending on the law in your state or territory, pregnant people may need to travel interstate to have an abortion.
For reliable, unbiased information about abortion access in your state or territory, contact:
- Health Direct
- 1800 Respect (for victim-survivors of violence)
- QLife (for LGBTIQ+ people seeking abortion)
- Family Planning Alliance Australia
- MSI Australia
- Children by Choice (Queensland)
- 1800MyOptions (Victoria)
- NSW Pregnancy Options Helpline (1800 131 231) (New South Wales)
- Pregnancy Advisory Centre (South Australia)
- Women’s Health Tasmania (Tasmania)
This article focuses on terminations for unplanned pregnancies but it's important to note that terminations also occur for planned pregnancies. Sometimes this is due to medical reasons, like chromosomal, genetic or structural fetal abnormality, or where continuing the pregnancy would risk the health or life of the mother.
How you might feel about an abortion
You might be experiencing many different emotions about a pregnancy. You may feel guilty about the pregnancy, worried about your partner, stressed about what it means for your relationship or powerless about the next steps. Deciding to terminate a pregnancy can also come with complicated feelings, regardless of whether it’s the right decision for you both. For some men, a feeling of grief is common and complex.
“[It can be] a little hard to understand because it's like, well, I'm not sure what I'm grieving, I haven’t held this baby as such,” says Alison Fonseca, psychologist and MSI Australia’s Manager of Psychosocial Health. “It's very understandable that men will experience some sort of grief, see this as a loss and, like for women, the loss is not suddenly magically resolved because you've had a termination.”
It’s critical to process these feelings, rather than sweeping them under the rug, so they don’t impact your current or future relationships. If you’re struggling to do this, it might help to speak to a friend, family member, a counsellor or a helpline like Mensline. GPs can offer referrals to private pregnancy counsellors to support decision-making or debriefing, which may be subsidised under Medicare. There are also organisations that offer pregnancy options counselling, which may be predominantly focused on the pregnant person, some offer support or sessions for partners too.
“If the other person wants to be involved in supporting the client, getting some information for themselves to better understand what's happening and also maybe to work out how they can manage the decision that's made, then we will most definitely see them and we encourage that,” Alison says.
Ben, 28, has been involved in two abortions, the first with a long-distance girlfriend who had returned to the UK after a university exchange in Australia.
“The decision was the best for both of us at the time, and still to this day,” he says. “We were on different sides of the world, it would've been life-changing, she wasn't ready to be a mum, I definitely wasn't ready to be a father.”
Ben wasn’t involved in discussing the decision but wishes he could have been more of a support at the time.
“I wanted to make sure she was okay, because I realise it can be a pretty traumatic procedure, and it didn't really hit me for maybe six months that she went through that,” he says.
Eventually, Ben opened up to a friend about the experience and how he felt but he encourages other men in his life to discuss it earlier.
“I was probably the loudest advocate for men speaking and yet I was the one that was staying in my bedroom and being the opposite of what I was preaching,” Ben says. “I let them know that it's something that happens and that if they consider it a mistake, it's a mistake that they can learn from and that there are options [of people to talk to].”
What is a male partner’s role?
Your involvement likely depends on the nature of your relationship. You may not be involved because your sexual partner has chosen not to inform you or include you in the decision-making process. You may be involved in a decision that is mutually agreed.
“The reality is that for so many people who are in intimate relationships, they want to engage their partner in their decision-making process,” says Bonney Corbin, MSI Australia’s Head of Policy.
If your partner wants your input, it’s helpful to be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings on the pregnancy while providing support and reassurance that she can make her own decision, without judgement or repercussion. Understand that it may take time to come to a decision and she might change her mind.
Some men understand and recognise that the decision around an unplanned pregnancy is a woman’s choice, but others find it difficult to accept. The decision might affect you both, but the woman accepts the greatest consequences of the decision. Difficult feelings and different views are understandable, but it is never ok to pressure someone.
What is reproductive coercion?
Reproductive coercion or reproductive abuse is any behaviour that interferes with the autonomy of a person to make decisions about their own reproductive health. It includes any behaviour that has the intention of controlling or constraining another person’s decision-making about reproductive health.
“Fundamentally, it's about the way someone may use or abuse power and control over someone else's life,” Bonney says.
That can happen individually between partners or institutionally through things like hospital policy or government laws.
“Whether it be an intimate partner that's trying to control someone else's contraception, a hospital that’s coercing someone to have a vasectomy, or a government that refuses to fund or resource sexual reproductive healthcare so that people can afford out-of-pocket costs,” Bonney says.
Persuading another person to terminate or continue a pregnancy through force or threats is reproductive coercion. Sometimes reproductive coercion can be ‘a very subtle dynamic’, says Alison.
“It's not necessarily that the person is overtly controlling or withdrawing funds or being violent in other ways,” Alison says. “It gets lost sometimes, the sense that your emotionality could actually be perceived by other people as… coercive, because you’re not regulating yourself as much as you could, or you’re not open to other conversations about it.”
If you’re concerned about communicating about a pregnancy decision, it may help to talk to a counsellor.
What you can do to support a partner
Supporting the person having an abortion can depend on the nature of your relationship. Ask what they want and need, and respect their boundaries.
Some things men can do to support a person having an abortion include:
- Drive them to and from the hospital for the procedure
- Take on extra responsibilities such as childcare, cooking and cleaning
- Help with expenses, for the abortion itself or other costs such as travel, pain management or menstrual care
- If or when she wants to talk about how she’s feeling, just listen
- Offer non-judgmental reassurance and respect
- Read the medical information about post-abortion care
- Look after yourself by talking to other people in your support network about how you are feeling.
Your sexual and reproductive wellbeing
While it's not your right to decide about someone else's abortion, it is your right to make decisions about aspects of sexual reproductive health in your control.
“Part of that is thinking about what intimacy, contraception, STI prevention means to you. It’s up to all of us to consider, decide and name what sexual intimacy we enjoy, and what we want to avoid. We need to be able to articulate our own needs and respect other’s needs, about what we want in our own relationships, bodies and lives,” Bonney says.