Abortion / Termination of Pregnancy

Abortion or termination of pregnancy can be carried out surgically and by using medication (depending how many weeks pregnant you are or on the services offered in your area) to remove the pregnancy tissue. For more details see ‘Choosing a method of abortion’

Abortion as a Human Right

Ensuring women’s right to comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion, is part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s international human rights obligations. The United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which New Zealand has signed and ratified, states: “the Committee explicitly requires that impediments to women’s access to lifesaving health services (such as high fees, spousal authorization, or punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortions) be removed” (Recommendation 24). To deny women access to certain reproductive health services is deemed discriminatory by CEDAW.

Abortion law in Aotearoa New Zealand

Currently abortion remains a criminal offence, only legal if approved by two certifying consultants. On 1 April 1978 the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act came into effect in New Zealand after almost a decade of intense lobbying and protests about the lack of a safe legal abortion services. Today, an abortion in New Zealand is only lawful if, during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, two certifying consultants agree that one of four conditions has been met including incest, potential physical or mental harm to the woman, foetal defects, and mental disability. Rape, age and socioeconomic circumstances are not necessarily grounds for abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand. After 20 weeks, an abortion can only be performed to prevent permanent physical or mental injury to, or the death of, a woman. The vast majority of abortions in New Zealand are performed on the grounds that there is a serious risk to the woman’s mental health. Currently the New Zealand Green Party is advocating for law change to decriminalize abortion.

Abortion services in Aotearoa New Zealand

There are currently inconsistencies in the abortion services available around the country. All District Health Boards are required by the Ministry of Health to provide access to abortion services however some District Health Boards require women to travel to access services from another region and a choice of abortion method is not available in all services.For up to date information about abortion services in your area see  abortion.gen.nz »To obtain an abortion you will need to be referred to an abortion service by your doctor or health clinic. There should not be unnecessary delays in obtaining this referral. Occasionally a doctor will decline to refer women to abortion services on the basis of their personal beliefs. Doctors are permitted by law to decline referral. However doctors are required to inform patients that they can obtain a referral from another provider.The Medical Council of New Zealand’s Good Medical Practice statement states that doctors’ personal beliefs, including political, religious and moral beliefs, should not affect their advice or treatment. If they feel their beliefs might affect the advice or treatment they provide, they must explain this to patients and tell them about their right to see another doctor. They must be satisfied that the patient has sufficient information to enable them to exercise that right’.Under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights you have the right to be given all the information you require to make an informed choice and the right to be treated with respect.If you are having difficulty obtaining a referral for an abortion in your area contact your local Family Planning clinic.

Choosing a method of abortion

Both medical and surgical abortion techniques are well established and safe procedures. The choice of abortion method is dependent on a woman’s preference and you should be given sufficient information to make an informed choice about the method that best suits you. Factors that your abortion provider may take into consideration in advising you about abortion methods are your gestation (how far along your pregnancy is), medical history, and the services available in your area.Standard 55 of the Standards of Care for Women Requesting Induced Abortion in New Zealand (2009) states that: ‘All services must actively promote the earliest possible procedure and work towards being able to offer women a choice of methods appropriate for each gestation period’.For information about the different kinds of abortion methods see www.abortion.gen.nz »

Abortion stigma

One in four New Zealand women will terminate a pregnancy at some point in their reproductive lives making abortion one of the most common gynaecological procedures. Yet despite this, abortion remains stigmatized in our society, which leads many women to conceal their abortion experiences. Abortion stigma has been defined as ‘a negative attribute ascribed to women who seek to terminate a pregnancy that marks them, internally and externally, as inferior to ideals of womenhood’.1 It takes many forms including the fear or actual experience of judgement of others including family, friends and health professionals; stereotypes of women who choose abortion; misinformation about the long term effects of abortion; and feelings of guilt.While women use silence as a protective strategy it can have negative consequences. Research shows that silence about abortion acts as a barrier to women seeking and receiving information and support.2 It also allows misinformation about abortion to flourish and inhibits information sharing between women such as how women made their decision to end an unwanted pregnancy and their perspectives on various methods of abortion. Silence about abortion can also result in delays in accessing abortion services and in abortion complications and inhibits social change to improve reproductive rights.The global ‘Speak Out’ movement has emerged over the past few years aiming to address abortion stigma by ending women’s silence about abortion. The movement is made up of a number of campaigns and projects that share the goal of tackling abortion stigma and shame, and normalizing and validating abortion by supporting women to speak out about their abortion experiences. Many women report finding it empowering to find safe places to share their abortion experiences. See ‘Articles and Research’ section below for information about this movement. 

  • References

    1 Kumar, A., Hessini, L., & Mitchell, E. M. (2009). Conceptualising abortion stigma. Culture, Health & Sexuality11(6), 628.
    2 Kumar, A., Hessini, L., & Mitchell, E. M. (2009). Conceptualising abortion stigma. Culture, Health & Sexuality11(6), 628.

Useful Links

If you would like more information about abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand contact:www.abortion.gen.nz »Abortion Law Reform Association New Zealand »1 in 3 Campaign »Reproductive Choice Australia »Pro-Choice Highway »If you would like more information about abortion services or support contact:www.abortion.gen.nz »ADHB’s Termination of Pregnancy Information »Family Planning »