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Abortion (“Termination”)

Overview

What is abortion (or termination)?

An abortion/termination is a surgical or medical procedure to terminate (end) a pregnancy by removing the embryo or foetus from a woman’s womb before it is mature enough to survive outside the woman’s body. In everyday language a “termination” is usually referred to as an abortion. A termination can be medical (using drugs) or surgical. Medical terminations are for women up to nine weeks pregnant, but are not available in all parts of New Zealand.

When is it legal to have an abortion/termination?

Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, s 10–11; Abortion Legislation Act 2020

On 24 March 2020 the law changed to decriminalise abortions/terminations. Terminations are now available without restriction for women who are up to 20 weeks pregnant.

If you’re more than 20 weeks pregnant, a termination is available if a health practitioner has a reasonable belief that abortion is an appropriate medical procedure for you in your situation. A “health practitioner” here could include, for example, your GP, a midwife, a Family Planning Clinic, or a hospital abortion service like the Te Mahoe Unit at Wellington Hospital.

In making that decision the health practitioner must consult with at least one other qualified health practitioner, and they must take into account:

  • all the relevant legal, professional and ethical standards that apply to them, and
  • your physical and mental health and overall well-being, and
  • how many weeks pregnant you are.

If you’re unsure about whether and how this law applies to you, you should talk to your doctor or to Family Planning (www.familyplanning.org.nz).

Where are abortions/terminations carried out?

Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, s 18

Terminations must be carried out in a licensed clinic or hospital. A list of licensed clinics or hospitals can be found at www.abortion.gen.nz

Clinics or hospitals with limited licences can perform terminations for pregnancies of up to 12 weeks.

For pregnancies over 12 weeks a termination must be carried out in a clinic or hospital with a full licence.

As a young person, do I need my parents’ permission to have an abortion/ termination?

No. You can consent to have an abortion/termination at any age. If you are able to understand the nature and consequences of a termination, health professionals must maintain your privacy and not tell your parents. However, it is likely that your medical professionals will strongly encourage a support person over 18 years old to accompany you to ensure your follow-up medical and psychological care needs are met.

Does the father of the unborn child have a right to a say in a woman’s decision about abortion/termination?

No. The decision is the woman’s. The father of an unborn child can’t force a woman to either terminate or continue with a pregnancy. Even if the father disagrees with the woman’s decision to continue with the pregnancy, he still has legal responsibilities relating to the care and financial support of the child when it is born.

Can my parents or guardians force me to have an abortion/termination?

No. It is your decision. You are legally entitled to refuse to have an abortion/termination, no matter what your age. No one has the right to force you to have a termination or to stop you from having one.

How do I get access to abortion/termination services?

You can contact a health practitioner like your GP, midwife, Family Planning clinic or a hospital abortion services unit to find what services are available. In some regions you may have to travel to a nearby area to access the service. You can self-refer – that is, you don’t need to go to a doctor first and get a referral from them – but you will still usually need to contact Family Planning or your GP to arrange for blood tests and an ultrasound scan.

Do I have to go to counselling?

Abortion Legislation Act 2020, s 12

No. Before March 2020 it was a legal requirement that counselling services had to be available to all women considering an abortion/termination. Now your health practitioner must tell you that counselling services are available, but they can’t make you go to counselling (either before or after the termination) as a condition of providing the termination.

Can a health practitioner refuse to provide me with abortion/termination services?

Abortion Legislation Act 2020, s 14

The law allows for the practitioner to have a “conscientious objection” to providing abortion/termination services. This allows them to refuse to provide you with an abortion or refuse to refer you to another health practitioner for an abortion. However, they must tell you this at the earliest opportunity and give you the contact details of the closest provider of abortion services.

How much does an abortion/termination cost?

Abortions are free for those who qualify for publicly funded health care. In general, you qualify for publicly funded health care if you’re a New Zealand citizen, a residence visa holder, a long-term work visa holder, or an Australian resident or citizen.

Note: Community Law publishes the booklet “Your Pregnancy Rights: Legal Options after a positive pregnancy test”. For more information see “Other resources” at the end of this chapter.

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