NOTE: The initial reported abortion statistics for 2019 have recently been revised by Statistics New Zealand. This article has been updated to reflect the new data.
New Zealand’s latest reported induced abortion statistics for 2019 paint an interesting picture of trends in access to this lethal procedure.
Since 1980 Statistics NZ has reported the induced abortion statistics. Those shown here are a snapshot of abortion in New Zealand in 2019 – the final year abortion was regulated by the Crimes Act 1961. Under the Abortion Legislation Act, 2019, future information regarding induced abortion will be supplied by the Ministry of Health.
As you read these figures, pause and reflect on the fact these numbers are talking about human lives – unborn children, mothers, fathers, families.
There were 12,948 reported induced abortions in 2019, a decrease of 334 from the previous year.
This equates to 18% of all known pregnancies – live births, still births, abortions – and excludes miscarriages.
For every 1,000 women aged 15-44 years there were 13.2 abortions.
In addition, the following can be drawn out of the statistics.
Reported abortion numbers have been reasonably stable over the last five years
Abortion numbers were relatively small at 5,945 when Statistics New Zealand began collecting and reporting data for the Abortion Supervisory Committee in 1980, a few short years after the passing of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, 1977.
These numbers progressively increased during the 1980s, hitting double figures in 1988, with 10,044 reported abortions.
The peak came in 2003 with an horrific total of 18,511.
After 2007, a consistent decline was seen, with 2016 having the lowest number of induced abortions reported this century.
There has been very little movement in the last five years, with figures consistently hovering around 13,000 each year.
Medical abortions are becoming more common
In 2003, the use of mifepristone (the abortion pill) was permitted as an abortion method in New Zealand. Under the old law a woman had to be present at the licenced premise when she took the mifepristone tablet (which causes the demise of the unborn child). Again, she had to be present when taking the prostaglandin tablet required to expel any remaining foetal and pregnancy-related tissue. There was no requirement to stay between doses.
With the passing of the Abortion Legislation Act, this requirement has now changed. From 29 March 2020, it is legal for a woman to access the abortion pill through tele-medicine and have the drugs couriered to her doorstep.
In recent years there has been an increasing trend towards the use of medical abortions. Since 2016, medical abortions throughout pregnancy have increased by 83%.
In 2019 there were 3,617 medical abortions. The majority (2,838) of these were Early Medical Abortions (EMA), taking place under nine weeks of pregnancy.
Surgical abortions are still the most common method employed, although this is decreasing.
With the new abortion law, along with other new innovations coming forward, we are likely to see a further, and possibly quite large, increase in medical abortions in New Zealand over coming years.
Late-term abortions are a reality
There were 70 induced abortions post 20 weeks in 2019. Of those, almost half (33) were in the 24th week or later. A foetus is considered capable of living outside the womb with assistance at 24 weeks.
In the ten-year period between 2009 and 2019, a total of 763 induced abortions were reported at 24 weeks or more.
Women who seek abortion are older and are more likely to already be a mother
The median age of women obtaining abortions in 2019 was 28.1 years. This is in stark contrast to 1985 when the age was 24.2 years, or 2009 when it was 24.4 years.
Further, there were 712 abortions obtained by women aged 40 and over.
More than half (58%) of those presenting for abortion have already given birth to at least one child.
While teen pregnancies are decreasing there are still a large number of young girls obtaining abortions
In 2019, there were 1,242 abortions undertaken on girls under the age of 20.
Girls under the age of 16 had 78 abortions. Of those, 5 were given to girls aged 13 and under.
The numbers increase significantly each year, escalating from 107 at age 16, to 478 for young women aged 19.
Many women were obtaining a repeat abortion
Although the majority (64%) of women stated this was their first abortion, many were returning for second, third, and more abortions.
Of those who had undergone an induced abortion previously, 3,025 had experienced one, while 1,647 had two or more previously. Of those, 100 had five or more previous abortions at the time of this one.
Ten women had seven or more previous abortions.
Pregnant mothers facing difficulties need options
“No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg,” explains Fredrica Mathewes-Green, in her book Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion.
Women choose abortion because in the moment, in her particular circumstance, it seems like the best option. The only option.
Organisations like Family Life International’s outreach, Gianna’s Choice Pregnancy Options and Support, are vital in ending abortion. Our pregnancy advocates assist women to look critically at her situation and discover the various options available to her in her particular situation. Then, we walk alongside each mother for as long as is required, both before and after the birth of her baby.
We will end abortion when it becomes mainstream for women to access all life affirming options.
Women need to know that they are not alone, that there are people who care, and that there are options.
She needs to know that she doesn’t have to choose abortion because she does not have any other choice.