Editorial: Sad statistic is in decline

Last updated 07:50 20/06/2013

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OPINION: So a sorrowful figure is tracking down.

A five-year decline in the nationwide abortion rate is good news, though no-one can regard the latest numbers with unmitigated satisfaction.

Pro-life campaigners will still see the 12,745 abortions last year as a state-sanctioned death toll, pure (or impure) and simple.

The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand also wants that figure to come down and says spending money to make contraception more accessible and affordable is both fiscally smart and socially responsible.

Which it is. About half the women having abortions in this country were not using any form of contraception.

That is an issue we must continue to confront.

Lessons should also be learnt from the remainder.

That is a large group that was taking some sort of measures but still wound up with unwanted pregnancies.

Nevertheless, improvements in contraceptive methods, and in education, do appear to be playing a part in the declining abortion rate. There is anecdotal evidence that the use of long-acting reversible contraception is rising, though supportive research appears to be thin.

It is a relief that the number of abortions among the very young (11 to 14 years) is trending down - there were 51 last year, compared with 68 the year before.

Make of it what you will, two-thirds of the abortions were a woman's first. And one-third were not.

By year's end, 257 Southland women had had abortions, either here or further north. That represents a drop from 272 the year before, though it was up from 231 in 2010.

Many people were dismayed when, in early September, abortions became available at Southland Hospital.

Essentially, however, this meant Southland women no longer needed to travel to Dunedin or Christchurch for the procedure. It was a case of the Southern District Health Board not making it gratuitously difficult for people to access a service to which they were legally entitled, however contentious it may be.

There is, however, one point in which the pro-life movement does have cause for reproach. About 98 per cent of abortions in New Zealand are performed on mental health grounds. But research published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry last year found no direct evidence that women who had an abortion were at lower risk of mental health problems than those who gave birth after having an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

What the research did find was other factors associated with unwanted pregnancy, including impacts on relationships, the needs of other children, family finances and education.

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The review did not suggest abortion should be illegal but that the current laws should be changed to reflect the real reasons women sought abortions.

For its part, the Abortion Law Reform Association read this as making a case for completely decriminalising abortion.

Though the pro-life movement would have us believe that as a nation we don't want abortion services, the fact is that as things stand a majority acknowledge the need for them.

- The Southland Times

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