Nationwide survey finds widespread support for legal abortion
New Zealanders’ show strong support for legal abortion, particularly if a woman’s life is in danger, according to a new
study from the University of Auckland.
School of Psychology PhD researcher Yanshu Huang surveyed more than 19,000 people on attitudes to abortion using the New
Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), a 20-year nationwide study that surveys New Zealanders on a wide range of
social, cultural and health issues over time.
In this latest research, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, 7-point Likert scales were used to find out how strongly New Zealanders agreed or disagreed on the issue of legal
abortion, both for any reason and when the woman’s life was in danger.
The study also examined whether attitudes differed across demographic groups such as older people, people of Māori or
Asian descent and those from economically deprived areas.
There was very little difference among these demographics when the woman’s life was in danger, with 89.3 percent of
people surveyed expressing support.
Support for legal abortion under any circumstance was slightly weaker but still high, with 65.6 percent of those
surveyed saying they agreed or strongly agreed with a woman’s right to choose.
But a comparison between different groups found support for legal abortion regardless of reason was weaker among men,
older people, those who identified with a religion and people from economically deprived areas. People with a higher
number of children and people of Asian descent (relative to NZ Europeans) also expressed less support for legal
abortion, regardless of the reason.
Māori showed relatively high levels of support for legal abortion regardless of circumstance and there was no difference
in levels of support between people of Pacific descent and those identifying as European/Pākehā.
Ms Huang, who is also a research assistant in the Public Policy Institute at the University, says previous research on
attitudes to abortion has shown unexplained differences between studies, and this may be because differences in attitude
can be influenced by what demographic group people belong to or identify with.
“We included key demographic data such as whether someone identifies as religious or belongs to a particular age or
ethnic group, as these factors can potentially influence people’s attitudes to abortion.”
Abortion is currently only legal under specific circumstances in New Zealand including pregnancy that poses a serious
risk to life or health, including mental health. In these instances, a woman must seek approval from two certifying
consultants. Outside of these specific circumstances, abortion is considered a crime under the Crimes Act 1961.
Abortion rates in Australasia and the wider Pacific region have remained relatively stable in the past decade although
New Zealand has seen a decline in the number being performed since the mid-2000s. In 2007, 20.1 percent of all
pregnancies in New Zealand ended in an abortion but by 2017, that had fallen to 13.7 percent.
University of Auckland Professor Chris Sibley and Associate Professor Danny Osborne are co-authors on the NZAVS study