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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3027

Senator ELSTOB —My question, which is addressed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, refers to the current abortion and birth rate amongst teenage women. Is the Minister aware that over 34,000 teenagers become pregnant each year and that around 20,000 abortions are performed? Given the effects of abortion and the implications that single motherhood is likely to have on the long term future of these young women, does the Minister feel satisfied that the direction of the Government's policy on women's affairs is giving enough attention to these needs of young women?

Senator RYAN —I am advised that the figures in Senator Elstob's question are misquoted. They come from a booklet published by the Australian Medical Association called 'Adolescent Health in Australia' by David Bennett. The booklet cites figures estimated by Dr Stephania Siedlecki of the Commonwealth Department of Health. The total estimated number of pregnancies in married and unmarried teenagers is around 34,000. The estimates are that about 50 per cent of these pregnancies result in births and that 40 per cent, or 13,000 to 14,000, result in induced abortions. Other estimates place the number of teenage induced abortions closer to 20,000. The number of births among teenagers has declined by nearly 50 per cent in the last 10 years. About two-thirds of this decline has been due to better contraceptive use which has reduced the total number of pregnancies. South Australian figures indicate that the rate of abortions among teenagers in South Australia increased rapidly between 1976 and 1978, then flattened out, and has been declining in the last two years.

The Government's policy is to promote the knowledge and practice of family planning, particularly among teenagers. Family planning associations throughout Australia have paid a great deal of attention to the needs of adolescents and this has been one of the contributing factors in the decline of teenage pregnancies and births. Clearly, with that very constructive record of family planning, I think that the best approach to the question of teenage pregnancies is indicated; that is, to prevent them before they are started. I expect that the Government will continue to increase support for family planning and similar agencies so that the tragedy of teenage pregnancy can be avoided.