Induced abortions in New Zealand have increased in the wake of the passing of the Abortion Legislation Act in March 2020.
A total of 13,236 abortions have been recorded by the Ministry of Health for the year 1 January to 31 December, 2020.
The information was obtained in an Official Information Act request submitted to the Ministry of Health by Right to Life.
Of the 13,236 reported abortions, 5349 were medical and 7861 were surgical. Method data was missing for 26 reported abortions.
Medical abortions increased
Uptake of medical abortion increased by a staggering 48% on the previous year.
Over recent years the number of surgical abortions has been decreasing as medical abortion, particularly Early Medical Abortion becomes more popular. Despite the trend, the increase was significantly greater in 2020.
Covid policies may have attributed to the increase in medical abortions as hospitals were less inclined to do surgical procedures, particularly during the more stringent lockdowns of Levels 3 and 4.
Telehealth, or more accurately, tele-abortion, became available during 2020, and this could also be a contributing factor in the increase of medical abortions.
Tele-abortion has been widely promoted by the Women’s Clinic, begun by Dr. Simon Snook. After a consult over the phone or video, abortion pills are couriered to women throughout the country.
The Auckland Medical Aid Centre (AMAC) also turned to tele-abortion consultations during levels 3 and 4.
The idea of tele-abortion is not new. Dr. Snook began a telemedicine abortion phone line in 2015 which was intended to increase access to abortion, removing perceived barriers. However, its tenure was relatively short lived.
One of the most known abortionists in New Zealand, Snook is a director of the charity Istar Ltd, which imports the progesterone blocking drug mifepristone, under the name of Mifegyne. Mifegyne is the first tablet taken in a medical abortion, and is followed by misoprostol which brings on labour. He has a vested interest in the promotion and distribution of the lethal abortion pill.
Late term abortions
Reported late term abortions increased in 2020, with a total of 120 performed from 20 weeks until term. There had been 84 in 2019.
Of the late term abortions, 22 of these took place in the 25th or later week of pregnancy. In that group, one abortion occurred at 30-34 weeks of pregnancy and one other at 35-39 weeks.
In July 2020, Radio New Zealand reported that the then Justice Minister Andrew Little considered it “silly” to think that babies could be aborted up to full-term. Little stated, “it would be sad if anybody believed there was any such thing as full-term abortion – there isn’t”.
The statement was in regard to a comment made on Facebook by National MP Harete Hipango in regard to the topic.
Pregnancy is generally considered full term at 37 weeks.
In the released information, the Ministry of Health noted that the statistics for late term abortions may not be accurately represented as “189 abortions had missing values for the estimated duration of pregnancy” and were “not captured in the table.” The statement suggests there were potentially more abortions post 20 weeks than have been tabled.
With the new abortion law, it was expected that midwives would become more involved with providing abortions, in particular early medical abortions. In their submission on the Abortion Legislation Bill, the New Zealand College of Midwives noted that of its members who had shared their views on the legislation, “the large majority … were strongly supportive of the change to decriminalisation and a change to a health service focus.” They did recognize “that a small minority of members were against any changes to the Abortion Act.”
In 2020 a total of 28 abortions were carried out “by providers registered with the Midwifery Council of New Zealand.” This information was collected from 23 March when the Abortion Legislation Act was given Royal Assent.
Time will tell the true impact the Abortion Legislation Act will have on the acceptance and provision of abortion will have on women, families, and New Zealand society.