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The law around abortion

Abortion is legal in Aotearoa New Zealand with the agreement of two certifying doctors. There is no legal age limit on having an abortion in New Zealand.

Is abortion legal in Aotearoa New Zealand?

In New Zealand the law says it is legal to have an abortion if two certifying consultants (doctors) agree that continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to a woman’s mental or physical health. 

Abortion is regulated by a number of laws in New Zealand.

What laws regulate abortion in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977

The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act (CS&A Act) 1977 and amendments, established the Abortion Supervisory Committee which reports annually to the New Zealand Parliament.

This Committee sets up and maintains the list of certifying consultants who decide whether a woman meets the lawful ground for an abortion under the Crimes Act 1961.

The Committee also oversees the quality of services and where they are available. The CS&A Act also restricts where abortions may be performed and outlines the procedures to be adopted by a woman seeking an abortion.

Care of Children Act 2004

Section 38 of the Care of Children Act 2004 determines that a young woman under the age of 16 can consent to an abortion but she must still go through the process outlined under the CS&A 1977.

Crimes Act 1961

The Crimes Act 1961 determines the grounds for an abortion. The grounds under 20 weeks are:

  • serious danger to life
  • serious danger to physical health
  • serious danger to mental health
  • any form of incest or sexual relations with a guardian
  • mental sub normality
  • foetal abnormality (added in the July 1978 amendment).

Other factors which are not grounds in themselves but which may be taken into account are:

  • extremes of age
  • sexual violation (previously rape).

After 20 weeks gestation the grounds are different. They are:

  • to save the life of the mother
  • to prevent serious permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother
  • foetal abnormality in itself is not a ground for abortion after 20 weeks.

Imported medication

Abortions in Aotearoa New Zealand can only take place after a woman has followed the process set down in law.

It is not legal to import medications into New Zealand or to take any imported medication to cause an abortion.

You can put your health at risk by taking medications, especially prescription medications, without seeing a doctor. Imported medication may not meet safety standards and may be poor quality.

If you have had a medical abortion you should see a doctor if you:

  • are unsure about whether the medications have worked 
  • are concerned about your symptoms.

In 2006, the Director General of Health issued a statement about the importation of unapproved and prescription only medicine. Read the Director General's statement

Is there an age limit to have an abortion?

There is no legal age limit on seeking or having an abortion.

This means that a woman or girl of any age can agree (consent) to have an abortion or refuse to have one. No-one can force you to have an abortion or to continue a pregnancy.

It is also your decision who you tell about the procedure – this includes your parent and parents. If you are a teenager, it is a good idea to talk to a parent or another trusted adult. If you do choose to seek an abortion, it is good to have adult support.

You will need to see two doctors who must agree that you have good reasons for the abortion under New Zealand abortion law.

For more information visit the Abortion in New Zealand website. 

What is conscientious objection?

Conscientious objection is when a doctor does not believe in providing a service such as abortion or contraception.

A doctor who has a conscientious objection to abortion is not required to assist in the performance of an abortion and, under a December 2010 High Court ruling, may also refuse to refer you for assessment.

However, the doctor must inform you that you can obtain the service from another health care provider.

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (Section 174) addresses the issue of conscientious objection.

More information

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