Statistics show fewer births and fewer abortions

Abortion rates in Waikato are the lowest they have been in a decade. However, the number of women giving birth has also dropped significantly.

Figures released by Statistics New Zealand yesterday show 1214 abortions were performed in 2013. This is 107 fewer than the previous year.

Statistics also indicated a significant drop in birth rates across the district with Waikato recording 5745 births last year - 305 fewer than 2012.

Waikato followed the national trend, which also showed New Zealand women were having fewer abortions and few children.

"[Research at a] national level shows that nationally fewer women are getting pregnant and slightly fewer women are having abortions compared with 2012," government statistician Liz MacPherson said.

Figures for last year showed 14,073 abortions were performed - 672 fewer than in 2012. Macpherson said in the Statistics NZ report, however, that year-on-year comparative figures were not always reliable.

"It is important to note that the legal environment and the provision of abortion services affect comparisons over time in abortion rates and in the number of abortions."

The country's abortion rate for 2013 was the lowest it had been since 1995, when 13,652 abortions were performed.

Government statistics also showed live birth rates were the lowest they had been since 2007. Last year, Statistics NZ recorded 58717 live births - considerably fewer than the 61178 recorded in 2012.

The median age of women having an abortion in 2013 was 26.

Women aged 20-24 years had more abortions last year than any other age group, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of those performed. Nearly two-thirds of abortions performed in 2013 were a woman's first, while 24 per cent of women had had one previously, and 13 per cent reported having already had two or more abortions.

The abortion rate for teenagers had decreased notably since 2007, when the age group accounted for 27 in every 1000 but this year that figure almost halved to just 14 per 1000.

Abortions were also being performed at an earlier stage, as the figures showed just over half were performed before the 10th week of the pregnancy.

In 2006, just over a quarter of abortions were performed at the same stage of a pregnancy.

A decade ago New Zealand recorded the highest number of abortions with 18,511 in 2003.

Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ president Dr Morgan Healey said the declining figures underscored the urgent need for politicians to review the criminalisation of abortion in New Zealand.

"The figures come amid a welcome national discussion, sparked by the Green Party's policy to get abortion out of the Crimes Act, but the statistics highlight yet again that we actually have no hard data on why the rate is falling or on why women seek abortions in the first place," Dr. Healey said

Dr. Healey said the current law, which only allows abortion under a narrow set of grounds set out in the Crimes Act, adds to abortion stigma and actively suppresses a fact-based debate about the issue.

However, ProLife NZ spokeswoman Mary-Anne Evers said The Green Party's policy to introduce "abortion-on-demand" would be a backwards step.

The Greens policy would also radically expand the reasons for which abortion is permissible under New Zealand law, such as abortion up until birth on the basis of ‘severe foetal abnormality,' Evers said.

"As it stands, the term ‘severe foetal abnormality' is widely interpreted in law and practice to include disabilities such as Down syndrome and spina bifida."

Currently women in New Zealand have to prove there is a risk to either themselves or the foetus to legally obtain an abortion.