Medical abortion in Australia: a short history

Reprod Health Matters. 2015 Nov;23(46):169-76. doi: 10.1016/j.rhm.2015.10.002. Epub 2015 Dec 4.


Surgical abortion has been provided liberally in Australia since the early 1970s, mainly in privately owned specialist clinics. The introduction of medical abortion, however, was deliberately obstructed and consequently significantly delayed when compared to similar countries. Mifepristone was approved for commercial import only in 2012 and listed as a government subsidised medicine in 2013. Despite optimism from those who seek to improve women's access to abortion, the increased availability of medical abortion has not yet addressed the disadvantage experienced by poor and non-metropolitan women. After telling the story of medical abortion in Australia, this paper considers the context through which it has become available since 2013. It argues that the integration of medical abortion into primary health care, which would locate abortion provision in new settings and expand women's access, has been constrained by the stigma attached to abortion, overly cautious institutionalised frameworks, and the lack of public health responsibility for abortion services. The paper draws on documentary sources and oral history interviews conducted in 2013 and 2015.

Keywords: Australia; abortion regulation; medical abortion; mifepristone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Abortion, Induced / psychology
  • Australia
  • Contraception, Postcoital / methods
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Mifepristone / administration & dosage
  • Politics
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Social Stigma


  • Mifepristone