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Lower abortion figures welcomed, but more must be done

Lower abortion figures welcomed, but more must be done

The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) welcomed figures released today showing a decrease in the number of abortions by 767 to 15,863 in 2011 compared with the previous year. The organization is hopeful that the drop from 16,630 in 2010 is a sign of increased access to contraception and the ability of women to choose the timing, spacing and number of children.

However, ALRANZ President, Dr Morgan Healey, said the figures needed to be understood within a wider social context that continues to stigmatise women for their sexual and reproductive choices.

“While I am always happy to see a decrease in the abortion figures, which I hope is reflective of the ability of women in New Zealand to have autonomy over their bodies and reproductive decisions, I continue to doubt the Government’s commitment to women’s equality,” Healey said.

“I’ve been alarmed at the sometimes explicit and sometimes veiled attacks on women in recent months in the news media, for example, specifically isolating only women on the DPB for free contraception and likening drinking while pregnant with child abuse.”

“Taken in isolation, these don’t necessarily appear to be restricting women’s autonomy, and are often seen as positives. However, I worry that an increased focus on what women are doing with their bodies is a slippery slope to enacting policies that seek to restrict sexual and reproductive rights further, similar to what we are seeing in the United States and Britain at the moment,” she said.

ALRANZ believes that women’s lack of autonomy and respect in relation to access to abortion is symptomatic of women’s continued inequality in this country.

Healey said, “I firmly believe that until women are no longer criminalized for their reproductive decisions, they will not be free and equal citizens. This means not only breaking the silence and stigma associated with abortion, but extends across all policy areas, particularly those that insist that in order to receive the social benefits of society you in turn cede all rights to be treated with dignity and to decide when to have children.”

Again ALRANZ calls on the Government to use the opportunity of the annual release of abortion statistics to move toward a review of the existing laws. “This is a perfect opportunity to take the repeated advice of the Abortion Supervisory Committee to reform abortion legislation, and one way of doing this would a Law Commission review,” said Healey.

Other points worth noting in today’s release were:

• a drop in the number of abortions among 11-14 year olds, down to 68 in 2011 from 84 in 2010

• disappointingly little progress in ensuring a higher percentage of abortions are performed earlier in pregnancy. Only 34 percent were performed at 8 weeks or less, down from 36 percent in 2010. For pregnancies under 10 weeks, the figure was 55 percent in 2011, down from 56 percent in 2010.

• Most abortions were the woman’s first, at 62 percent.

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