Unplanned pregnancy: understanding your options



Updated August 2023 | 7 min read
Expert contributor Dr Deborah Bateson, Associate Professor in gynaecology
Words by Karen Burge

Understanding your options if you’re experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

For many women, pregnancy is a time of happiness, excitement and anticipation. But what are your choices, and who can you turn to, if becoming a mum is the last thing you expected or feel ready to do?

About half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned, explains Health Direct. While for most women an unplanned pregnancy is wanted, at least one in four are described as unwanted.

Women from all walks of life can find themselves in this situation for various reasons, even if you’re taking the necessary precautions like using contraception. A study from 2018 showed that nearly half of women who had unplanned pregnancies were using contraception at the time they got pregnant.

There are also many women who may not be in a position to negotiate using contraception, due to the effects of alcohol or other drugs, lack of power in relationship decision-making, or being forced or coerced into having sex.

Early information gathering

If you think you might be pregnant – perhaps your period is late, or you're experiencing nausea or vomiting – then you should confirm it with a home pregnancy test or a visit to your GP, family planning clinic or women's health centre for a blood test. Sometimes you may also be asked to do a urine test, depending on your situation. Once you’ve confirmed you’re pregnant, you can ask questions, get support and weigh up your options.

Associate Professor in gynaecology and neonatology and Medical Director of Family Planning NSW, Dr Deborah Bateson, says talking to your GP or a local family planning service early on helps you access the full range of services available. "Doctors and GPs are very experienced and skilled in this area and will provide information and options," she explains.

"Maybe a woman needs more support to make the decision that’s right for her, in which case she might be referred to a counselling service. However, what we do know is that many women have made up their minds before they see a doctor. What they’re seeking isn’t counselling, it's just accurate information."

Knowing your options

An unplanned pregnancy can be emotionally challenging. While some women struggle to decide what’s best, others find their life circumstances make the decision more straightforward, explains not-for-profit organisation Children by Choice.

Feeling supported and informed and knowing the options available to you are important steps in the decision-making process. You may want to give birth to and keep the baby, terminate the pregnancy or put the baby up for adoption. But before any decision is made, it’s important you speak to your healthcare professional.

Keeping the baby

You may choose to continue with the pregnancy, either in partnership with someone or as a solo parent.

"Some people may choose to parent alone and others may find themselves parenting alone due to the breakdown of a relationship or differences in how to proceed with an unintended pregnancy," explains Family Planning NSW. "It’s good to seek support from your family and friends and think about the support networks that will be available for you."

Dr Bateson states that women continuing with their pregnancy alone can visit their local family planning clinic for support and guidance. "It's very much a discussion around emotional support as well as providing practical information," she says. "The key thing is for women to feel supported and informed about their rights, including being able to find out if they’re eligible for financial assistance. This may include speaking with a social worker." If you plan to keep the baby, book in an appointment with your doctor, midwife or obstetrician to go through next steps, like upcoming scans, tests and appointments.

Terminating the pregnancy

One in four Aussie women will choose to have an abortion (or termination), according to Family Planning Australia.

Women and couples consider an abortion for a number of reasons, like:

  • foetal or maternal health problems
  • a significant health issue
  • an accidental pregnancy to a partner
  • a breakdown of their relationship
  • an escalation in violence
  • a sudden change in financial situation
  • another significant life event.

Depending on how many weeks’ pregnant you are will determine the type of termination procedure that can be performed. If you’re less than nine weeks pregnant, you generally have the option of a medical or a surgical termination. If you’re more than nine weeks pregnant, you may need to have a surgical termination. There are laws that limit until what week of pregnancy you can legally have an abortion and these laws vary from state to state. A healthcare professional can advise you about your options.

  • A surgical abortion, also known as a suction curette, is a low-risk procedure commonly used in the first trimester (up to 14 weeks) which involves removing the lining and contents of the uterus. The procedure takes about 15 minutes and you’re usually given a light general anaesthetic.
  • A medical abortion is an alternative to low-risk surgery, which can be done in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. A drug called mifepristone, also known as the abortion pill, together with another drug called misoprostal are used for this procedure. There are two stages to the procedure, the first involves taking a tablet that blocks the hormone necessary for the pregnancy to continue, followed by a second medication 36 to 48 hours later that causes the contents of the uterus to be removed.
  • You may also be able to organise a medical abortion via a telephone service which provides an alternative safe and private way to terminate an early pregnancy. To see if you're eligible and make a telehealth appointment, contact MSI Australia or call 1300 315 664.
  • Some hospitals offer therapeutic termination where an advanced pregnancy has been deemed non-viable, generally by an induced miscarriage. There are also private clinics that can offer a surgical alternative.

Costs will vary depending on the option you choose, where you live and how far along your pregnancy is. While there’s a Medicare rebate for surgical abortions and the cost of medical abortion drugs is covered under the PBS, there can still be significant out-of-pocket costs. If cost is a concern, speak with your doctor about available assistance.

Dr Bateson says that while women are legally able to access terminations in Australia, the laws and requirements vary from state to state. Visit Healthdirect to find out termination options in each Australian state and territory.

To find an abortion clinic, contact the Family Planning clinic in your state or territory, use the Find a Health Service or call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.

Opting for adoption or fostering

Adoption is a process where legal rights and responsibility for a child are permanently transferred from the birth parents to the child's adoptive parents.

"When adoption is under consideration, we would link people up with expert community services who would work closely with the birth parents," explains Dr Bateson. "Parents must wait at least 30 days after the child is born before they can sign the adoption papers."

For more information about adoption in your state or territory, visit:

Fostering is a different option to adoption, where foster carers care for the child until you are ready to take the child into your care. Temporary foster care (for several weeks) can be used while you sort out accommodation, financial or personal problems, whereas long-term foster care provides a safe, nurturing and secure family environment for children and will result in you losing legal guardianship and/or custody, but you'll still be the child's legal parent.

Whatever you’re considering, know there’s support and advice available to help you make an informed choice.

How to make a decision

When you’re making a decision about what to do about your unexpected pregnancy, look at all the options you have available. Healthdirect suggests some questions to think about:

  • How do you feel about being a parent and about children?
  • How would having a baby affect your relationships?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals and would having a baby change things for you?
  • What’s your financial situation?
  • Do your moral or religious beliefs affect your decision?
  • How would having a baby affect your own health and wellbeing?

Heathdirect advises that you shouldn't rush your decision and to think about how you feel and what your decision might mean for your life.

Support services available

For support and advice on unplanned pregnancy, visit:

You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse.

Mental wellbeing support

Everyone’s mental health journey is different, and often finding where to go for support can be challenging. Our mental health and wellbeing programs are designed to give eligible members quicker and easier access to the support and treatment that’s right for you and your family, when you need it. Learn more about our range of mental health and wellbeing support programs.



What you need to know during those early days of pregnancy.


This guide will help you understand what to expect with each medical test in pregnancy, when you’ll be tested and how to prepare.


As you get older your health risks and hormones change. Here are the birth control choices worth considering.


Sex is great for the body and mind but practising safe sex can slide off our radar. Follow these tips to maintain good sexual health.


This communication contains information which is copyright to The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia Limited (HCF). It should not be copied, disclosed or distributed without the authority of HCF. Except as required by law, HCF does not represent, warrant and/or guarantee that this communication is free from errors, virus, interception or interference. All reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure the accuracy of material contained on this website. It’s not intended that this website be comprehensive or render advice. HCF members should rely on authoritative advice they seek from qualified practitioners in the health and medical fields as the information provided on this website is general information only and may not be suitable to individual circumstances or health needs. Please check with your health professional before making any dietary, medical or other health decisions as a result of reading this website.