125th anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 passed

16 December 1977

An abortion-rights march in May 1977 at Parliament grounds. (Te Ara)

Parliament passed the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 following an inquiry by a Royal Commission.

In the 1970s there was heated debate around women’s access to contraceptives and abortion services, and the level of control a woman was entitled to over her own body. As these issues aroused impassioned views, in 1975 the government set up a Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion to conduct an inquiry. Their recommendations led to the enactment of new legislation.

The Act specified the circumstances in which contraceptives could be supplied to young people, sterilisations could be undertaken, and abortions could be authorised. The legislation decriminalised abortions for pregnancies of less than 20 weeks, providing certain conditions were met as set out in the Crimes Act 1961, and that the abortion was authorised by two certifying consultants – making it harder to get an abortion. The system did not work well, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women travelled to Australia for abortions because of difficulties in New Zealand. In 1978 Parliament amended the legislation.  

In 2020 abortion was removed from the Crimes Act. A woman could now obtain an abortion from a health practitioner in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Beyond 20 weeks she would have to convince a health practitioner that an abortion was ‘clinically appropriate’ in terms of her physical and mental health. The practitioner would then have to consult a second practitioner before proceeding.

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