Abortion

Also known as termination of pregnancy

About abortion

An abortion is a way of ending a pregnancy using medication or surgery.

Read about the abortion laws and practices in Aotearoa New Zealand and where you can go to get help with making decisions about a pregnancy.

Two women sitting on couch and talking while one comforts the other

  • On 24 March 2020 changes were made to New Zealand 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. 
  • There are 2 types of abortion available: medical (taking pills) and surgical (a minor operation).
  • Health providers may provide abortion services up to and including 20 weeks of pregnancy, but after that date must consult with another health provider to decide whether it is clinically appropriate to carry out an abortion.
  • Abortion and related counselling services are free.  
  • If you are thinking about having an abortion, get advice from a doctor or an organisation like Family Planning. They can give you information to help you make your decision.

Image credit: 123rf

Finding out you are pregnant is different for everyone. There are several options available to you:

  • Parenting – either with a partner or alone.
  • Whāngai – the Māori tradition of a child being raised by a relative or relatives who are not the birth parents, eg, grandparents or other whānau members. 
  • Adoption – a permanent legal agreement where the adoptive parents have full parental rights and responsibilities.
  • Abortion – a safe procedure that intentionally ends a pregnancy.

Deciding what to do when you are pregnant is a very personal decision. Once you have the information you need, it is your decision to make. Learn more about pregnancy options.

Most abortion services and related counselling services are free in Aotearoa New Zealand to any pregnant person eligible for publicly funded healthcare. However, you may need to pay for an ultrasound scan. There are fees for abortion if you are not a New Zealand resident. Find out more about non-resident abortion costs in New Zealand.(external link)

A qualified health practitioner can provide you with abortion services up to and including week 20 of your pregnancy.

If you are more than 20 weeks pregnant, a qualified health practitioner may provide abortion services if they reasonably believe that the abortion is clinically appropriate in the circumstances (taking into account your physical and mental health and overall wellbeing and the gestational age of the fetus). The practitioner must consult with another qualified health practitioner before providing abortion services.

Two different methods of abortion are used in Aotearoa New Zealand:

Talk to a healthcare provider as soon as you can – the procedure becomes more complex as the pregnancy progresses and the risks also increase.

Medical abortion is a way to end a pregnancy by using medication.

  • Early medical abortion is for pregnancies less than 9 weeks duration and induces a miscarriage.
  • Late medical abortion is performed during the second trimester (weeks 13–27) and induces early labour.

Early medical abortion

During early pregnancy a medicine called mifepristone can be used to block the effect of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the placenta to grow properly. After a couple of days, a second medicine called misoprostol or Cytotec (which is a type of medicine called a prostaglandin) is given to make your womb contract and expel the pregnancy in the same way as a miscarriage.

Like a miscarriage, there can be period-like pain. You will be given some medicine to help with this. There will also be some bleeding that is a bit heavier than a normal period.

The main advantages of early medical abortion are that it is performed early in the pregnancy, it does not require an operation and you do not need to be admitted to hospital.

Late medical abortion

The same hormones can be used for an abortion much later in pregnancy, but the doses of hormones needed are higher than those used for an early medical abortion. It also takes much longer, so you usually need to be admitted to hospital.

Surgical abortion is a simple procedure carried out to end a pregnancy. It is usually performed between 7–15 weeks of pregnancy but can be done later.

During this procedure, a small tube is inserted into your uterus through your vagina and cervix. The pregnancy is then removed by gentle suction. This takes about 3–5 minutes and can usually be performed under a local anaesthetic. If the pregnancy is further on, a general anaesthetic may be used.

Recovery after a surgical abortion is usually very quick. There is usually very little pain, and the bleeding and cramping are about the same as a period.

The risks of an abortion are the same as the risks of a miscarriage. The most common are vaginal bleeding and infection. These risks are very low for a miscarriage or an abortion that occurs at less than 12 weeks.

Bleeding and infection after a termination of pregnancy usually means that there is some placental tissue left in your uterus. An ultrasound scan can be used to check for this and occasionally an operation called a dilatation and curettage (D&C) is needed to remove the placental tissue.

With a surgical termination of pregnancy there is also a small chance of damage to your cervix or uterus during the procedure. This is one of the main reasons why medical abortion is preferred if possible.

Decision-making support

For some women, the process of thinking about and going through with an abortion can be emotionally difficult. If you are struggling in this way, it is a good idea to seek counselling and advice from a qualified therapist.

You can contact a healthcare provider to discuss your options, including continuing a pregnancy or having an abortion, and to access counselling that is unbiased and non-judgmental.

Counselling is not mandatory – a healthcare provider cannot insist that you have counselling before providing abortion services.

Contact the New Zealand organisation DECIDE(external link)(external link) on 0800 332 433.

Use pads rather than tampons and showers rather than baths for the first couple of weeks.

It is best to wait about 2 weeks after an abortion before having sexual intercourse. If you do have intercourse before then you should use a condom to decrease the chance of infection.

Use contraception. This is a good time to discuss contraception and choose a method that works for you. Remember that you could get pregnant again within 2 weeks of a termination of pregnancy.

 

If you miss a period or have pregnancy symptoms, find out as soon as possible whether you are pregnant. This will give you more time to think about your options and seek advice about how you wish to proceed.

If you are not trying to get pregnant, use contraception if you are having sex. Most recommended forms of contraception are safe and reliable but you need to choose a method that works for you.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, healthcareproviders actively support Māori to make decisions that are best for them, in combination with the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

They seek to work in partnership with Māori wahine, including your whānau if you would like. This approach aims to ensure you make decisions to enhance your rangatiratanga, and are able to exercise mana motuhake (authority) over your own body and reproductive health.

Health practitioners will also ensure that Māori have evidence-based information about the abortion process, so you can make decisions and preparations that will uphold your tikanga or cultural practices. Wherever the process takes place, the aim is for it to be culturally safe as defined by Māori.

Some health practitioners (or other staff members such as receptionists) may have a conscientious objection to abortion and they can decline to discuss, provide or assist with abortion services. If this is the case, they must tell you how to access the contact details of the closest provider who can provide the service. If they don’t, you can complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner.

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.

The abortion legislation is available on the New Zealand Legislation website.

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.

Learn more about: 
Abortion legislation – key changes for health practitioners(external link)(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020

Clinical resources

NZ Aotearoa abortion clinical guideline(external link)(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
Termination law in NZ(external link)(external link)
 BPAC, NZ, 2010
The role of the GP in termination of pregnancy in NZ(external link)(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2010
Methods of termination of pregnancy in NZ(external link)(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2010
Mifegynetab(external link)(external link) Medsafe, NZ, 2013
The care of women requesting induced abortion(external link)(external link) Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, UK, 2011
Medical methods for first trimester abortion(external link)(external link) Cochrane Fertility Regulation Group, 2011
Best practice in comprehensive abortion care(external link)(external link) Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, UK, 2015

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Jeremy Tuohy, Obstetrician, Gynaecologist, Capital and Coast DHB and researcher, University of Auckland

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