Abortion rate at lowest in 20 years

The number of women having abortions in New Zealand has dropped to its lowest rate in almost 20 years and significantly fewer teenagers are having the procedure.

Wider use of contraception, better school-based education and even reality television are all thought to be behind the drop.

In 2012, 14,745 women had abortions in NZ, down from 18,382 five years earlier.

The number of abortions is at the lowest level since 1995, according to a report from the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which works to improve the quality of abortion services in New Zealand.

Women in their 20s were most likely to have an abortion, followed by 15 to 19-year-olds. Women over 45 were the group with the lowest number of abortions.

The number of girls under 14 having abortions more than halved - from 104 in 2007 to 51 in 2012. The number of girls in the 15- to 19-year-old group also dropped substantially - from 4173 to 2489.

Most women having abortions identified themselves as European, followed by Maori, Asian and Pacific.

Family Planning national medical adviser Christine Roke said the drop in the number of women having abortions was "great news".

"Each of those people who have an abortion have had to make a decision about what to do," she said. "Most people would like to have control of when they get pregnant."

There were several factors behind the drop but there had been an increase in the number of women using long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, Roke said.

The implant had been subsidised by the Government since 2010 and more women had chosen to use it.

It had also become "much more well known that it is perfectly all right for young women or women who haven't had children to have an IUD, whereas years ago it was thought not to be a very good idea".

The emergency contraceptive pill was also more accessible after it became available from nurses and pharmacists.

Reality television, too, may have played its part, particularly the depressing American show 16 & Pregnant, which the New York Times described as showcasing the "grim, hard work of single mothering", Roke added.

Anti-abortion groups have also been busy over the past year, causing controversy with some of their campaigns.

Some parents were outraged to discover pro-life campaigners were handing out rubber foetus dolls to children at the Canterbury A & P Show in November.

A Voice for Life spokesman said the group has had some impact on women's choice. "I certainly think our activities have brought the issue to public awareness."

A drop in abortion numbers was not a reason to celebrate because lives were still being lost, he said.

Voice for Life was particularly alarmed that the overwhelming majority of women sought abortions on the grounds their pregnancy was a danger to their mental health.

"That concerns us because it's a loophole that allows women to go through a procedure that is incredible harmful to the woman and a violation to life."

Sunday Star Times