The majority of Kiwis are supportive of a woman’s right to choose abortion, according to two recent surveys.
A recent Ipsos Global Advisor Study, including more than 500 New Zealanders, probed varying attitudes towards abortion and feminism across the world.
Overall, three-quarters – 77 per cent – of New Zealanders responded in favour of allowing abortion.
The majority – 51 per cent – would permit the choice in any circumstances.
While only 25 per cent believed it should be permitted under certain circumstances, such as if a woman had been raped.
The majority result is higher than the global average of 68 per cent and puts New Zealand in the ninth position in the world in relation to these views.
On the other hand, 10 per cent of New Zealanders believe abortion should not be permitted unless a mother’s life is in danger.
A further 4 per cent believe it should never be permitted.
In New Zealand, an abortion can only be carried out in if continuing the pregnancy is deemed to pose serious danger to the mother’s mental or physical health.
An abortion needs to be approved by two doctors or consultants.
There is a petition currently before the House of Representatives to remove abortion from the Crimes Act 1961.
The Ipsos study, completed by 588 New Zealanders aged between 18-74, also found an overwhelming majority of Kiwis believed in equal opportunities for men and women – totalling a near-perfect 95 per cent.
A weaker but still clear majority defined themselves as feminists and would advocate for equal opportunities for women.
Managing director of Ipsos New Zealand Carin Hercock, said it was great to see that the majority of New Zealand women feel they had equality with men and that the country was ahead of the global average in that regard.
However, with nearly one in four New Zealand women disagreeing with this sentiment, there was still a way to go, she said.
“Having said that, with more than half of New Zealand men and 68 per cent of women identifying as feminists, we should continue to see improvements.
“At Ipsos we believe it is important to understand how New Zealanders are feeling about the big social and cultural issues of our time, and so regularly survey the population to gain a better understanding of the country and world we live in.”
The findings regarding the public attitude to abortion is backed by recent nationwide survey published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.
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, a seven-point Likert scale was used to find out how strongly Kiwis 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 per cent 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 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 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.
Huang, who is also a research assistant in the Public Policy Institute at the university, said 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.
“We included key demographic data such as whether someone identifies as religious or belongs to a particular age or ethnic group, as these factors clearly influence people’s attitudes to abortion.”
Statistics NZ shows the majority of women – 60 per cent – last year had their abortion before 10 weeks’ gestation, up from 46 per cent in 2008.
The rate for women aged 15–19 years was 8.4 per 1000 women last year, down from 26.7 in 2007.
New Zealand’s general abortion rate was 13.5 abortions per 1000 women aged 15–44 in 2018 – the same rate as the United States’ most recent figures (2017), but lower than England and Wales at 17 per 1000 women in 2017.