The reason why so many women in their late thirties are having abortions.

These are the abortions we rarely hear about.

In Australia, every year, around 3100 women aged between 36 and 40 have a termination. That’s more than the 2900 women aged between 16 and 20 who have one.

That’s right. Abortion is more common among women in their late thirties than those in their late teens.

The surprising figures come from info collected by family planning organisation Marie Stopes Australia.

“There is often this myth with abortion that it is young women ‘in crisis’ who access the services,” Dr Catriona Melville, senior medical officer for Marie Stopes Australia, tells Mamamia.

“The reality is that roughly one in three to one in four women in Australia will need to access an abortion at some stage in their life. So we see women who are at various life stages.”

Teenage pregnancy just isn’t as common as it used to be. Dr Melville says this is due to “better education and access to safe and effective contraception”.

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So what’s going on with women in their late thirties?

Dr Melville says some of them have recently had babies and have a lot going on in their lives.

“Contraception isn’t foremost in their minds,” she explains. “This is understandable, as caring for a newborn takes priority, especially for a first-time mum.”

Some women have been using contraception and it’s failed. Other women have believed that they didn’t have any chance of falling pregnant because of their age.

Dr Melville says although fertility does decline from the age of 36, it doesn’t mean there’s no risk of pregnancy.

“The recommendation is that you need to use effective contraception for two years after your last period if that happens when you’re under 50 years old, or for one year after your last period if this happens when you’re over 50. As a general rule, all women can stop using contraception when aged 55.”

For women who unexpectedly fall pregnant in their late thirties, the timing can be terrible. Most are mothers already, but many weren’t planning on having any more kids. They may feel they just can’t afford another child. They might worry about the impact on their existing children.

As well, some older women, especially those in their forties, have abortions for health reasons. That’s around 1200 women each year aged between 41 and 45, as well as 100 aged 46 or more.

“Pregnancy is higher risk when over 40,” Dr Melville explains. “A woman at this stage in her life is more likely to have hypertension or diabetes, for example. I have spoken to women who already have health problems and feel they can’t risk continuing with their pregnancies because they need to stay healthy for the family they already have.”

For many women, the decision to terminate their pregnancy is a tortured one.

“None of the patients that we see take their decision lightly. It’s deeply personal and can often be a difficult decision.”

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