An abortion is a way of ending a pregnancy using medication or surgery.
Key points about abortion
- On 24 March 2020 changes were made to New Zealand law to decriminalise abortion, better align the regulation of abortion services with other health services and modernise the legal framework for abortion services in New Zealand.
- There are 2 types of abortion available: medical (taking pills) and surgical (a minor operation).
- Health providers may provide abortion services up to and including 20 weeks of pregnancy, but after that date must consult with another health provider to decide whether it is clinically appropriate to carry out an abortion.
- Abortion and related counselling services are free.
- If you are thinking about having an abortion, get advice from a doctor or organisation like Family Planning. They can give you information to help you make your decision.
What are my options if I am pregnant?
Finding out you are pregnant is different for everyone. There are several options available to you:
- Parenting – either with a partner or alone.
- Whāngai – the Māori tradition of a child being raised by a relative or relatives who are not the birth parents, eg, grandparents or other whānau members.
- Adoption – a permanent legal agreement where the adoptive parents have full parental rights and responsibilities.
- Abortion – a safe procedure that intentionally ends a pregnancy.
Deciding what to do when you are pregnant is a very personal decision. Once you have the information you need, it is your decision to make. Learn more about pregnancy options.
Does it cost anything to have an abortion?
Most abortion services and related counselling services are free in New Zealand to any pregnant person eligible for publicly funded healthcare. However, you may need to pay for an ultrasound scan. There are fees for abortion if you are not a New Zealand resident. Find out more about non-resident abortion costs in New Zealand.
When can abortions be carried out?
A qualified health practitioner can provide you with abortion services up to and including week 20 of your pregnancy.
If you are more than 20 weeks pregnant, a qualified health practitioner may provide abortion services if they reasonably believe that the abortion is clinically appropriate in the circumstances (taking into account your physical and mental health and overall wellbeing and the gestational age of the fetus). The practitioner must consult with another qualified health practitioner before providing abortion services.
What are the different types of abortion?
Two different methods of abortion are used in New Zealand:
- medical abortion – this involves taking pills to end the pregnancy
- surgical abortion – this involves a minor operation.
Talk to a health provider as soon as you can – the procedure becomes more complex as the pregnancy progresses and the risks also increase.
What is a medical abortion?
Medical abortion is a way to end a pregnancy by using medication.
- Early medical abortion is for pregnancies less than 9 weeks duration and induces a miscarriage.
- Late medical abortion is performed during the second trimester and induces early labour.
What happens during an early medical abortion?
During early pregnancy a medicine called mifepristone can be used to block the effect of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the placenta to grow properly. After a couple of days, a second medicine called misoprostol or Cytotec (which is a type of medicine called a prostaglandin) is given to make your womb contract and expel the pregnancy in the same way as a miscarriage.
Like a miscarriage, there can be period-like pain. You will be given some medicine for this. There will also be some bleeding that is a bit heavier than a normal period.
What happens during a late medical abortion?
The same hormones can be used for an abortion much later in pregnancy, but the doses of hormones needed are higher than those used for an early medical abortion. It also takes much longer, so you usually need to be admitted to hospital.
What is a surgical abortion?
Surgical abortion is a simple procedure carried out to end a pregnancy. It is usually performed between 7–15 weeks of pregnancy but can be done later.
What happens during a surgical abortion?
During this procedure, a small tube is inserted into your uterus through your vagina and cervix. The pregnancy is then removed by gentle suction. This takes between 3–5 minutes and can usually be performed under a local anaesthetic. A general anaesthetic may be used if the pregnancy is further on.
Recovery after a surgical abortion is usually very quick. There is usually very little pain, and the bleeding and cramping are about the same as a period.
What are the risks involved with an abortion?
The risks of an abortion are the same as the risks of a miscarriage. The most common are vaginal bleeding and infection. These risks are very low for a miscarriage or an abortion that occurs at less than 12 weeks.
Bleeding and infection after a termination of pregnancy usually means that there is some placental tissue left in your uterus. An ultrasound scan can be used to check for this and occasionally an operation called a dilatation and curettage is needed to remove the placental tissue.
With a surgical termination of pregnancy there is also a small chance of damage to your cervix or uterus during the procedure. This is one of the main reasons why medical abortion is preferred if possible.
Where can I find more information if I am considering an abortion?
- The Ministry of Health website has information for women considering an abortion.
- The Ministry of Health’s Abortion Line can be contacted on 0800 499 500. This service is available from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 2 pm on weekends.
- Healthline can be contacted on 0800 611 116. This free service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have interpreters available.
Where can I get support to make a decision about having an abortion?
For some women, the process of thinking about and going through with an abortion can be emotionally difficult. If you are struggling in this way, it is a good idea to seek counselling and advice from a qualified therapist.
You can contact a health provider to discuss your options, including continuing a pregnancy or having an abortion, and to access counselling that is unbiased and non-judgmental.
Counselling is not mandatory – a health provider cannot insist that you have counselling before providing abortion services.
What should I do after an abortion?
Use pads rather than tampons and showers rather than baths for the first couple of weeks.
It is best to wait about 2 weeks after an abortion before having sexual intercourse. If you do have intercourse before then you should use a condom to decrease the chance of infection.
Use contraception. This is a good time to discuss contraception and choose a method that works for you. Remember that you could get pregnant again within 2 weeks of a termination of pregnancy.
How can I help myself?
If you miss a period or have pregnancy symptoms, find out as soon as possible whether you are pregnant. This will give you more time to think about your options and seek advice about how you wish to proceed.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, use contraception if you are having sex. Most recommended forms of contraception are safe and reliable but you need to choose a method that works for you.
Some health practitioners (or other staff members such as receptionists) may have a conscientious objection to abortion and they can decline to discuss, provide or assist with abortion services. If this is the case, they must tell you how to access the contact details of the closest provider who can provide the service. If they don’t, you can complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner.
Abortion Family Planning NZ
There are several organisations that provide information about abortion services in New Zealand.
Abortion Services NZ
Family Planning NZ
Find an abortion service provider in your area
- Considering an abortion Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
- What is abortion? Family Planning, NZ
- Comparing abortion methods Family Planning, NZ
|Dr Jeremy Tuohy is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist with a special interest in Maternal and Fetal Medicine. Jeremy has been a lecturer at the University of Otago, Clinical leader of Ultrasound and Maternal and Fetal Medicine at Capital and Coast DHB, and has practiced as a private obstetrician. He is currently completing his PhD in Obstetric Medicine at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.|