International organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), have been clear that people have the right to make their own reproductive decisions, including getting an abortion, and to access reproductive health care. Reproductive health care covers a range of services, from maternity and fertility services to contraception and abortion services. These services are essential for realising equitable health outcomes, particularly for women and girls, people with diverse gender identity or expression or sex characteristics.
Throughout history, and across all cultures, people have used methods to end a pregnancy, including Māori. Today, Māori beliefs about abortion are diverse, as they are in all cultures. The right to exercise tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake over reproductive health and wellbeing, including the right to abortion, is a right that should be guaranteed under Te Tiriti O Waitangi.
In New Zealand, the law recognises abortion as a health issue. It is regulated as a health service and also regulated under the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, there is inequitable access to abortion services. Barriers to abortion services include:
- Inconsistent access to local services across regions - with limited or no local abortion providers in some regions - making it necessary for people to travel long distances to access some services
- No funding mechanism for primary care providers to offer abortion services
- Lack of qualified health practitioners who are trained to provide abortion services
- Stigma and shame surrounding abortion
- Intimidating protests outside of abortion services in some places
- Conscientious objection by some health practitioners resulting in unnecessary appointments, delays, and stigma
- Limited research about abortion care in Aotearoa New Zealand to inform policy and service provision
- More information
In many other countries around the world, including in the Pacific region, abortion is severely restricted and only legal in a few circumstances, such as to save the life of a mother who might die if the pregnancy continued. International research has shown that where countries restrict abortion access, there are still abortions, but they are less safe. Research shows that worldwide 3 in 10 pregnancies end in abortion. Unsafe abortion is a significant contributor to maternal harm and death. Restricting access to abortion is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality around the world.
While globally there has been a trend of liberalising abortion laws to support equitable access to safe abortion services, there are ongoing efforts by some individuals and organisations to restrict and ban abortion, even in countries where it has been accessible for decades. People hold a wide range of personal beliefs about abortion. If faced with an unintended pregnancy, a person’s beliefs will influence their decision whether or not to have an abortion. However, another person’s personal opposition to abortion should not restrict access for others, nor should government or health provider policies. People should never be forced or coerced to have an abortion or continue with a pregnancy.
While abortion rates in Aotearoa and around the world have declined as people have better access to effective contraception, there will always be a need for abortion because there will always be unintended pregnancy, as well as health complications with a pregnancy.
Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa works to ensure equitable access to high-quality, culturally safe abortion services without cost, delay, or judgement, including advocating for expanded provision, training, and research.