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Abortion in New Zealand: the statistics

Karl du Fresne: A peculiar aspect of the report is that it refers to pregnant "persons" and "people" rather than "women", but disappointingly it doesn't disclose the number of men who became pregnant.
Karl du Fresne
Contributing Writer
July 9th, 2022

OPINION: Contrary to what I wrote in a recent blog post about Roe v Wade, recent statistics about abortions in New Zealand are still available. They are published by the Ministry of Health and replace those that were previously compiled by Statistics New Zealand for the now-defunct Abortion Supervisory Committee. (I was under the impression that with the disestablishment of the ASC, statistics would no longer be collected. I was wrong and have added a footnote to that effect to my blog post.)

The statistics for 2020 reveal, among other things, a slight increase in the number of abortions compared with 2019 – from 12,857 to 13,246. That equates to 13 abortions per 1000 women aged between 15 and 44. There is a suggestion in the notes accompanying the statistics that this increase may be linked to reduced access to contraception during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Longer term, the overall trend has been downwards. Abortion numbers peaked at more than 18,000 per year in 2003, 2004 and 2007 and were consistently above 15,000 from 1997 till 2011.

The percentage of pregnancies that ended in abortion in 2020 was up slightly on the previous year, from 17.7 per cent to 18.6 per cent. The mean age of women having an abortion was 28.

Two striking figures not mentioned in the ministry’s summary of “Key Facts” were that 64.8 per cent of patients were not using contraception when they became pregnant and 3000 women had had at least one previous abortion. Forty-four women had had six or more abortions and 549 had had three or more.

Other significant statistics:

  • The vast majority of abortions (12,237) took place during the first 12 weeks of gestation, but 102 were performed at 21 weeks or more. Twenty-two weeks is generally held to be the gestational age at which babies can survive outside the womb, but the statistics don’t reveal at what stage in the baby’s development those 102 late abortions were performed. The figures show that the proportion of abortions carried out in the first eight weeks of pregnancy has risen markedly, presumably as a result of more women having early medical abortions (see below).

  • Women aged 25 to 29 had the most abortions (26.3 per cent) followed closely by women aged 20-24 (24.2 per cent). Twenty-six abortions were performed on girls aged between 11 and 14 – a depressing statistic, but less so than the 68 carried out on the same age group in 2011. Seventy abortions were performed on women aged 45-plus.

  • 21.7 per cent of abortions were for women who identified as Maori and 8 per cent for women who identified as Pasifika. Women of Asian ethnicity accounted for roughly the same number of abortions as those who identified as Maori. 

  • The proportion of early medical abortions, in which a miscarriage is induced by drugs (the so-called abortion pill), increased from 22 to 36 per cent. In pregnancies of less than nine weeks, these “medical” abortions outnumbered surgical procedures. Overall, however, abortions in which the foetus was surgically removed still made up the majority of procedures (59 per cent), although that figure was lower than in 2019.

  • Auckland’s Epsom Day Unit had the dubious distinction of performing by far the greatest number of abortions: 3855 in 2020. That's nearly 15 a day for every working day of the year. Measured by DHB region, Counties-Manukau ranked highest for the number of abortions.  

  • 5445 women who had abortions, or 41 per cent, had not previously given birth.  5776 had had one or two babies (described as “live births”), 71 had had six babies and 43 had had seven or more.

  • 8645 of the 13,246 women who had abortions were not using contraception at the time of conception. Another 2495, or 18.7 per cent, relied on condoms. Figures for women using oral contraception, IUCDs or depo provera were far lower. The level of non-contraceptive use was remarkably uniform across all age groups, though marginally highest among those under 20.

You can read the ministry's abortion summary here. A peculiar aspect of the report is that it refers to pregnant "persons" and "people" rather than "women", but disappointingly it doesn't disclose the number of men who became pregnant.

Article originally published on Karl du Fresne's blog and republished to The Platform with permission.

Karl is a freelance journalist and blogger living in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand.