The Abortion Supervisory Committee’s 31st annual report to Parliament for the year ending 30 June 2008 is a brief document outlining the activities of the new committee since the belated appointments of new members in June 2007. The members of the ASC committee are Professor Linda Holloway, Dr Rosy Fenwicke and Mrs Patricia Allan.
This year’s report comments that “adequate resourcing has enabled the ASC to put in place a work programme to address issues concerning abortion services in New Zealand and in particular work on examining the pathway for the abortion process. The work programme began in August 2007, shortly after the new members of the ASC were appointed.”
This year’s report is in a different format and begins with a report on the ASC’s activities for each of its functions listed under section 14 of the Act.
The ASC has appointed a Standards Committee to produce a Standards Document for the Provision of Abortion Services in New Zealand 2008. Once the document has been produced it will be available to DHBs, professions and the public. The aim is for this to serve as a useful guide to the equitable provision of quality abortion services and it will be updated regularly to take into account developments in the field.
This Committee has also been asked to look at current and future training and workforce issues.
The total of induced abortions performed in 2007 was 18,382, compared with a total of 17,934 abortions in 2006.
Women aged between 20-24 years accounted for 5445 (37.2 per 1000 women in this age group) of the abortions performed, with women aged 15-19 years accounting for 4173 abortions (26.6 per 1000 women in this age group), and women aged between 25-29 years accounting for 3574 abortions (26.2 per 1000 women). For the youngest age group in this table – young women/girls under 15 – there were 104 who had an abortion. These figures are very similar to those from the previous year.
A total of 9,693 women were not using any form of contraception, 5,236 were using condoms, 2,083 were using combined oral contraceptives, and 398 were using progesterone only contraceptives. A total of 212 women had used the morning after pill, 328 were using natural family planning, 144 were using depo provera injections, and 231 were using an intra-uterine device.
There were no tables or information on ethnicity in this year’s report. The report states: “we have chosen not to include some tables which have been included in previous years because they have limited relevance without deeper analysis.“
The ASC plans to provide statistical information in a different format for its next report – to present figures in a more user-friendly format and provide some statistical commentary.
Lack of access
As part of the ASC’s schedule of visits to licensed institutions around the country, the committee has become aware that there are many women in New Zealand who are not able to access locally some or all abortion and post-abortion contracep-tive services.
The report states: “The ASC is working with DHBNZ in its development of a paper on Services for Termination of Pregnancy. When finalised, the paper will recommend the requirements for the equitable provision of abortion services to women and families throughout New Zealand, given that abortion has been identified as a core service.”
The report reveals that the fees paid to the 195 certifying consultants totalled $5,048,096 in the year ended 30 June 2008.
High Court Proceedings
The Right to Life organisation sought a judicial review of the ASC’s powers and functions under the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977. The resulting High Court decision was that abortion law neither confers nor recognises a legal right to life for the unborn child. It also dismissed Right to Life’s challenges to the way the ASC has interpreted its obligations in relation to counselling services provided to women under the Act.
The report states: “The Court held, however, that there is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants and that the ASC has misinterpreted its functions and powers under the abortion law, reasoning incorrectly that the Court of Appeal decision in Wall v Livingston means it may not review or scrutinise the decisions of certifying consultants.” The ASC has appealed the High Court’s decision to the Court of Appeal. The Right to Life has cross-appealed.