Contraceptives, education hailed as heroes as abortion rates lowest in 25 years
Teenagers are having fewer abortions than women in their 20s and 30s, with better access to contraceptives tipped as one of the reasons why.
The number of abortions performed in New Zealand in 2016 was the lowest in more than 25 years, according to Statistics New Zealand.
The abortion rate for women aged 20-24 years fell from a peak of 41 per 1000 women in 2003 to 21 per 1000 in 2016.
For women aged 15-19, the rate dropped from 26 per 1000 to nine.
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Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said a push to improve access to long-term contraceptives in recent years has probably helped to bring down rates.
"More women are using IUDs [intrauterine devices] and implants and they have a very small failure rate."
A total of 12,823 induced abortions were performed last year, compared with 13,155 in 2015. Abortion remains illegal under the Crimes Act, though no criminal proceedings have ever been brought due to abortion.
The contraceptive pill, taken daily, and condoms had proven to be effective, but could fail through human error, such as when people forgot to take the pill, Edmond said.
In 2010, Pharmac began subsidising the Jadelle implant, a rod inserted in the arm, which can provide birth control for up to five years.
It ran out in two months, after 1700 women rushed to get the implant, prompting supplies to be brought in from Finland.
Figures from the government drug-buying agency show that, since 2007, prescriptions for the oral contraceptive, emergency contraceptive and condoms have declined.
In 2016, 71,400 prescriptions were handed out for condoms, compared with 108,100 in 2010.
From 2011, scripts for IUDs had seen a sharp increase, while the Jadelle had fluctuated since it hit the market.
Auckland University Associate Professor Katie Fitzpatrick believed abortion rates reflected wider cultural shifts.
Fitzpatrick, who has done extensive research into sex education, said these might include attitudes towards contraception and the emergency contraceptive pill along with greater access to information online.
"Young people are certainly seeking to be better informed and, if schools are not providing them with sexuality education classes, then it's no surprise that they will go online.
"There is a lot of international evidence that young people are seeking advice, information and discussions about sex and sexuality online.
"This is neither good nor bad necessarily but it is clearly useful – or they wouldn't be doing it."
She believed sex education in schools needed to be given proper attention, "so that complex health issues such as sexuality, mental health, drugs, alcohol etc can be explored in full".
"At the moment health education is given scant time in most schools and it is difficult for teachers to get professional development opportunities.
"Many teachers feel under-prepared and under supported in these areas."
Family First spokeswoman Marina Young believed the rate would continue to drop as knowledge of the prenatal development of the unborn child increased, especially with the help of technology.
"We can see 3-D ultrasounds and have smartphone apps that show the progress of baby from conception to birth."
She believed a combination of education, delaying sex and behaviour changes was resulting in lower teen pregnancy and abortion rates.