The Ministry of Health’s annual report on abortion care in Aotearoa shows improvements in the provision of abortion care following the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act. Ministry data shows 45% of abortions were provided at 8 weeks gestation or less, up from 27% in 2019. The abortion rate itself has mostly remained steady.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa president Terry Bellamak said, “Early abortions are better for people because they don’t have to remain pregnant as long. Also, the earlier the abortion, the safer it is. Reducing delay was a key benefit of removing abortion from the Crimes Act and treating it like all other health care. Actual reduction in delay, as expected, shows the new abortion system is working much better than the old one.”

Before the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, in order to access legal abortion patients had to obtain the approval of two certifying consultants, which could only be provided on certain grounds in the Crimes Act. This antiquated system created delays, causing New Zealand patients to receive abortion care much later than those in comparable countries.

Bellamak continued “The data also shows a big increase in the percentage of early medical abortions – 36% in 2020, up from 22% in 2019. This is partly because the new system allows patients to take the two sets of pills at home, 24 – 48 hours apart, as best practice requires. And it’s partly because the pandemic made it necessary for people to avoid going to a service if possible. Thanks to the new legislation, it was possible for the health system to provide abortion care during lockdown via telephone and Zoom.”

Because the old legislation was passed before early medical abortions existed, the old law required patients to take both sets of pills on the premises of the service, even if that meant having to travel long distances twice.

“Access will likely improve even further next year as more primary care practitioners, like midwives, nurse practitioners, and GPs take up the training to provide early medical abortions in primary care settings.

 “We still think the Ministry should keep track of the number of patients who had to be referred to the Ministry’s website because their health practitioner obstructs access to abortion of the basis of their own ‘conscience.’ It’s important to keep track of the problem to understand whether it is getting better or worse.

“Overall, the report shows that abortion care has improved in Aotearoa as a result of the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.