Early medical abortion services provided in Australian primary care

Med J Aust. 2021 Oct 18;215(8):366-370. doi: 10.5694/mja2.51275. Epub 2021 Sep 22.


Objectives: To examine primary care provision of early medical abortion services in Australia.

Design: Cross-sectional study; analysis of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) dispensing data.

Setting, participants: Women of child-bearing age (15-54 years), Australia, 2015-2019.

Main outcome measures: Age-standardised rates of MS-2 Step prescriptions dispensed by year for 2015-2019, and age-standardised rates by state, remoteness area, and level 3 statistical areas (SA3s) for 2019. Numbers and proportions of SA3s in which MS-2 Step was not prescribed by a GP or dispensed by a community pharmacy during 2019 (unweighted and weighted by number of women of reproductive age), by state and remoteness area.

Results: During 2015-2019, 91 643 PBS prescriptions for MS-2 Step were dispensed; the national age-standardised rate increased from 1.63 in 2015 to 3.79 prescriptions per 1000 women aged 15-54 years in 2019. In 2019, rates were higher in outer regional Australia (6.53 prescriptions per 1000 women aged 15-54 years) and remote Australia (6.02 per 1000) than in major cities (3.30 per 1000). However, about 30% of women in Australia lived in SA3s in which MS-2 Step had not been prescribed by a GP during 2019, including about 50% of those in remote Australia.

Conclusions: The rate of early medical abortion is greater among women in remote, outer regional, and inner regional Australia than in major cities, but a considerable proportion of women live in areas in which MS-2 Step was not locally prescribed or dispensed during 2019. Supporting GPs in the delivery of early medical abortion services locally should be a focus of health policy.

Keywords: Abortion; Primary health care; Rural health services; induced.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Early Medical Intervention
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Young Adult