Information on abortion in New Zealand including who can provide abortions and further details on when abortions occur and legal requirements.
Who can provide abortions in New Zealand?
The legislation allows doctors, midwives, and some nurses to provide abortions in New Zealand as long as they hold a current practising certificate, have the necessary qualifications, prescribing rights, skills, competency, resources, and abortion is a health service permitted within their scope of practice.
This means that an individual health practitioner may be able to provide some abortion services but not others (for example, they may prescribe abortion medications but not perform surgical abortions).
What percentage of New Zealand abortions occur in the first trimester (the first 12 weeks) of pregnancy?
In New Zealand most abortions (89.3% in 2018) occur during the first trimester.
What percentage of New Zealand abortions occur after 20 weeks?
Only a very small percentage (0.9% in 2020) occur after 20 weeks1.
Who can have an abortion if they are more than 20 weeks pregnant?
Most abortions performed after 20 weeks relate to intended pregnancies and occur because a serious fetal abnormality is detected or there is a serious risk to the woman’s life or physical health2.
Post 20-week abortions are very uncommon (0.4% in 2018) and would only be performed if the abortion is clinically appropriate in the circumstances, as further described below on this page.
If a fetus has a confirmed serious abnormality, can a woman have an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy?
A qualified health practitioner may provide an abortion for someone more than 20 weeks pregnant if they believe that the abortion is clinically appropriate in the circumstances. The criteria for determining if an abortion is clinically appropriate is outlined below.
What are the criteria for an abortion to be deemed clinically appropriate after 20 weeks gestation?
Abortions after 20 weeks are very uncommon (0.4% in 2018). Before providing an abortion, a qualified health practitioner must determine if an abortion is clinically appropriate. To do so they must:
- consult with another qualified health practitioner
- consider all relevant legal, professional and ethical standards, including the Ministry of Health’s Interim Standards for Abortion Services
- consider the woman’s physical and mental health, overall wellbeing and the gestational age of the fetus.
Are sex-selective abortions available in New Zealand?
Is there a legal requirement that babies born alive after a ‘failed’ abortion are given medical support?
A live birth after an intended abortion is extremely unlikely. From 22 weeks of pregnancy, feticide (an injection to stop the fetal heart) takes place prior to the abortion.
In the event that this did occur, all babies born alive are legal people with the same rights as any other person. There is a requirement to provide health care in the same way as for any other baby.
Is there a legal requirement to provide fetal pain relief before abortions that take place from 20 weeks of pregnancy?
Best practice and clinical standards for health services are continually reviewed and updated, with advances in medical technology and new evidence of best clinical practice. For this reason, they are not generally prescribed in legislation.
There is also a requirement that from 22 weeks of pregnancy, feticide (an injection to stop the fetal heart) takes place prior to the abortion.
Are there legal restrictions on the type of abortion procedures that can take place?
As stated above, best practice and clinical standards for health services are continually reviewed and updated, with advances in medical technology and new evidence of best clinical practice. For this reason, they are not generally prescribed in legislation.
The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 is not stand-alone legislation. Health practitioners are subject to a comprehensive framework of regulations, standards and guidelines from their respective professional bodies, including the Ministry of Health’s Interim Standards for Abortion Services.
In addition, 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, prescribing rights, skills, competency and resources to provide abortion services.
As is the case for any medical procedure, any abortion services not provided appropriately or in accordance with acceptable standards of practice may be the subject of an investigation by the practitioner’s relevant regulatory authority or the Health and Disability Commissioner.
2 2018: Law Commission, Alternative approaches to abortion law, Ministerial briefing paper, paragraphs 2.16, available on the Law Commission website.
3 New Zealand Law Commission's 2018 report ‘Alternative approaches to abortion law’, available on the Law Commission website.
4 Section 21(1) of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.