Abortion legislation changes

On 24 March 2020 changes were made to the 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.

Please note this amendment updates the primary legislation for abortion, set out in the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 and the Crimes Act 1961.

Key changes in the legislation

Pregnant people can self-refer to an abortion service provider. 

A wider range of registered health practitioners (eg doctors, midwives, nurse practitioners, registered nurses) can provide abortions (subject to scopes of practice and training).  

A qualified health practitioner can provide abortion services to an individual who is not more than 20 weeks pregnant (no statutory test requirements). 

A qualified health practitioner may provide abortion services to an individual who is more than 20 weeks pregnant if they reasonably believe that the abortion is clinically appropriate in the circumstances. In considering whether the abortion is clinically appropriate in the circumstances, the qualified health practitioner must: 

  • consult at least one other qualified health practitioner 
  • have regard to: 
    • all relevant legal, professional and ethical standards to which the qualified health practitioner is subject 
    • the person’s physical health, mental health and overall wellbeing
    • the gestational age of the fetus

Counselling is no longer mandatory, however health practitioners must advise individuals of the availability of counselling services if they are considering an abortion  

If a health practitioner has a conscientious objection and declines to provide or assist with providing contraception, sterilisation or abortion services, or to provide information or other advisory services relating to abortion, they must tell the individual of their objection and how to access the contact details of the closest provider of the service requested. A conscientious objection does not override a health practitioner’s professional and legal duty to provide prompt and appropriate medical assistance to any person in a medical emergency (including a surgical emergency). Practices should find the best ways to communicate objections for the benefit of both patients and health practitioners (eg, by providing this information on your website and in waiting rooms) 

Ensuring that employers accommodate an employee’s conscientious objection, but not if doing so would unreasonably disrupt the provision of health services. Accommodating the employee’s objection may include arranging for those duties to be carried out by an existing employee 

Removing the requirement that abortions may only be performed in licenced premises 

The Director-General of Health must compile and maintain a list of the names and contact details of abortion service providers in New Zealand. An abortion service provider means an entity that provides abortion services. The list, or the information on the list, will be accessible to any person on request. The list will not contain the name and contact details of any abortion service provider who advises the Ministry that they do not want their name and contact details included in the list. Please email [email protected] to advise the Ministry about including or withholding your entity’s details from this list. 

Registered nurses trained in abortion care can provide early medical abortion using a standing order. Expanded practice protocols may allow registered nurses to provide other abortion care as per agreed protocols and training. Registered health practitioners will not be able to perform surgical abortions or prescribe medicines for medical abortions unless: 

it is a health service permitted within their scope of practice 

the practitioner holds a current practicing certificate 

the practitioner has the necessary qualifications, skills, competency and resources to provide abortion services in accordance with the Ministry of Health's Interim Standards for Abortion Services

Get more information about changes and what this means for health practitioners

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