Abortion legislation

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

The changes in the legislation aim to reduce barriers to accessing abortion services.

People can self-refer to an abortion service provider

A person seeking an abortion no longer needs a referral from a doctor in order to access abortion services.

A wider range of registered health practitioners can provide abortions

Doctors, midwives, nurse practitioners and registered nurses can provide abortions (subject to scopes of practice and training). If you are a health practitioner interested in providing abortion care, please see the information about training and support on Te Whatu Ora’s Providing abortion services webpage.  

No longer a requirement for abortions to be performed in licensed premises

This means that abortion services can be provided closer to home, including in primary care and via telehealth.

No clinical or statutory requirements for an abortion before 20 weeks

A qualified health practitioner can provide abortion services to an individual who is not more than 20 weeks pregnant without needing clinical or any other evidence of appropriateness.

Statutory clinical requirements for an abortion post 20 weeks 

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 not mandatory but must be offered

Health practitioners must advise individuals of the availability of counselling services if they are considering an abortion.

New obligations for practitioners with a conscientious objection

If a health practitioner has a conscientious objection they can decline to provide or assist with providing contraception, sterilisation or abortion services, or to provide information or other advisory services relating to abortion. However, they must:

  • tell the person of their objection
  • tell the person 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 their website and in waiting rooms).

Employers providing abortion services are obligated to accommodate an employee’s conscientious objection unless doing so would unreasonably disrupt their provision of health services. Accommodating the employee’s objection may include arranging for those duties to be carried out by an existing employee.

The Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora holds a list of abortion service providers and a list of pharmacists willing to dispense EMA medication

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 may be a single practitioner or service covering many staff. 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 Manatū Hauora (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 details from this list. Information about how to become an abortion provider can be found on Te Whatu Ora’s website.

Pharmacists who choose to supply EMA medicines

If a pharmacy chooses to supply medicines for EMA, under the legislation the pharmacy is required to meet the legal (but not clinical) definition of an abortion provider and appear on a list held by Manatū Hauora. This list is maintained by HealthPoint. Pharmacies who would like to be added to the list can contact HealthPoint via email [email protected].

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