Abortions in New Zealand up 25 Percent Since Decriminalisation

Since abortion was entirely decriminalised in 2020, the number has risen from 12,948 in 2019 to 16,214 in 2023.

Official statistics from the New Zealand Ministry of Health, released under the Official Information Act (pdf) to lobby group Right to Life show that the number of abortions carried out in New Zealand has risen by 25 percent since a law change in 2020—from 12,948 in 2029 to 16,214 last year.

Additionally, an Abortion Services Aotearoa NZ report released last year—covering abortions up to the end of 2022—showed that year, 221 women suffered complications including haemorrhaging, retained products, infections and failed abortions. This was up from 161 the previous year—an increase of almost 40 percent.

The risk was greater with abortions after 20 weeks—60 percent of complications were with medical abortions. For 57 medical abortions, they couldn’t even find the woman to follow up.

In 2020, the law was changed to remove the procedure from the country’s Crimes Act, a measure that had been in force since 1977.

The new law decriminalised abortion and allowed women to choose a termination up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

Women would be able to refer themselves to an abortion service provider without recourse to a doctor and would have to be made aware of counselling services.

Previously, two doctors were required to approve an abortion, and this could only happen if there was a “serious danger” to the health of the pregnant woman.

After 20 weeks gestation, a woman still has to go through the old system of seeing two doctors, who can only consent if it is “clinically appropriate.”

The vote in parliament was labelled a “conscience issue,” meaning that MPs did not have to vote along party lines. It was supported by 68 to 51.

The law change occurred under Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government, but was opposed by coalition partner New Zealand First—though the party had signalled its support for the bill until a clause was removed which would have seen it put to a referendum.Conservative lobby group Family First said the latest abortion statistics make a “grim and upsetting” reading.

“However, this is the sad reality which we predicted would happen when the law was changed,” they said.

“Our abortion law denies the humanity of the baby and creates inconsistency with other legislation and public health messaging for pregnant women which clearly recognises the rights of the unborn child.

“Anybody who has viewed the ultrasound of an unborn child will know that this law is a gross abuse of human rights.”

However, it’s highly unlikely the law will change back to a more conservative approach despite the change in government.

National Party leader and now Prime Minister Christopher Luxon made a firm pledge to stand by the current law prior to the last election, despite his pro-life stance.

He told reporters on the campaign trail he’d “absolutely” rather resign than change abortion access.

“There’ll be no change to any of our abortion laws, funding or access—I’ve been really clear about that,” he said. “That is not our focus.”

Prior to the 2020 law change, pollsters Ipsos asked residents of several countries for their views on abortion.

Overall, three-quarters of New Zealanders (77 percent) said abortion should be permitted, either whenever a woman decides she wants one (51 percent) or in certain circumstances, such as if a woman has been raped (25 percent).

The result was higher than the global average of 68 percent and put New Zealand in ninth position in the world in terms of liberal attitudes on the issue.


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