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Source: MIL-OSI Submissions

Abortion statistics: Year ended December 2019 – media release

16 June 2020

Far fewer women aged under 20 years had abortions in recent years compared with a decade ago, Stats NZ said today.

Abortions for women under 20 have been decreasing since the peak in 2007. In 2019, just under 10 percent of the 12,857 abortions were for women under 20. In 2007, it was 23 percent.

Conversely, the proportion of abortions for women 30 years and over has been increasing. In 2019, 39 percent of abortions were for women aged 30 and over, compared with 28 percent in 2007.

Women in their 20s were most likely to have an abortion in 2019, accounting for 51 percent of all abortions.

There were 12,857 abortions performed in 2019, with the number performed each year relatively stable since 2014. The number of abortions generally increased between 1980 (when records began) and in 2003 (when it peaked), with 18,511 abortions performed that year. It was relatively stable until 2007, and then began to decrease.

The age-specific abortion rates (number of abortions per 1,000 women in an age group) for women aged 15–19 and 20–24 years had the largest drops over the last decade, with the rate for women aged 15–19 dropping by two-thirds.

Access to contraception can have an impact on abortion numbers. The drops in abortion rates over the last decade coincided with Pharmac funding long-acting reversible contraception, Jadelle, from 2010.

The rates for women aged 30 years and over have been relatively stable compared with those for women under 30.

In 2019, 18 percent of known pregnancies (live births, stillbirths, and induced abortions) ended in an abortion. This ratio has decreased since its peak in 2003 (25 percent) but has been relatively stable since 2012. It should be noted that this ratio doesn’t include miscarriages.

More women are having abortions earlier in their pregnancy. In 2019, 64 percent of abortions were performed before 10 weeks of pregnancy. This compares with 50 percent in 2009, and 37 percent in 1999.

Several factors may affect this increase in earlier terminations. Easier access to clinics allows women to seek a termination earlier. For example, before 2012, women in Southland had to travel to either Dunedin or often Christchurch to have an abortion. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 27 percent of abortions provided to Southland women were performed before 10 weeks. In 2012 a clinic opened in Southland, and since 2013, an average of 60 percent of abortions provided to women in the region were performed before 10 weeks. It may also be that improvements in accuracy of pregnancy tests mean that women can find out they are pregnant earlier.

International comparisons

New Zealand’s general abortion rate was 13.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 2019. It can be compared with the following latest available abortion rates:

  • Scotland: 12.9 in 2018
  • South Australia: 13.2 in 2017
  • United States: 13.2 in 2018
  • Western Australia: 14.3 in 2018
  • England and Wales: 18.0 in 2018.

Abortion law reform

It is likely that this will be the last Abortion Statistics information release published by Stats NZ. We have been publishing abortion statistics on behalf of the Abortion Supervisory Committee since 1998. On 23 March 2020, the Abortion Legislation Bill became law. This means that abortions have been decriminalised, and abortion services are aligned with other health services. Data on abortions is now collected by the Ministry of Health, who will now be responsible for publishing abortion statistics.

Before 2020, the last law change was in 1977 when the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act passed into law.

This Act specified the circumstances in which contraceptives could be supplied to young people, sterilisations could be undertaken, and abortions could be authorised.

The legislation meant that abortions for pregnancies of less than 20 weeks were decriminalised, provided that certain conditions were met, and that the abortion was authorised by two certifying consultants.