29 Nov 2018

Housing shortage in Auckland linked to increase in abortions

6:12 pm on 29 November 2018

Auckland is the only area in New Zealand where abortion numbers are increasing, watchdog boss says.

Professor Dame Linda Holloway, Chairperson of the Abortion Supervisory Committee reports to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee

Dame Linda Holloway would like to see abortion services in Auckland extended beyond the central city. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The chair of the abortion watchdog said a lack of housing in Auckland could be to blame for women choosing to have an abortion rather than start a family.

The spike in the number of abortions is the first in 12 years but is confined to women aged between 25 and 35 years old living in Auckland.

The chair of the abortion supervisory committee, Professor Dame Linda Holloway, put the increase in abortions in Auckland down to social and environmental factors, in particular a lack of housing.

She said the increase wasn't unexpected but was unusual in that Auckland was not the only area that has had a population increase in the last year but it was the only one that has had a rise in abortions.

"It's not a surprise, we felt it was probably getting as low as we could get. The only part of the statistics that require a bit of interpretation is the rise was not even across the country or across age groups."

Dame Linda said the affected age group was when women were traditionally starting families and she speculated a lack of housing and increased living costs could be to blame.

Minister shocked by link to housing crisis

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said Dame Linda's comments seemed plausible on the face of it but he was keen to get some further advice.

"That's a really shocking bit of advice to hear, I mean I can see the logic behind that and if that's right - and I have no reason to believe it's not - then it's just one of a number of really sobering consequences of the housing crisis,'' he said.

Justice Minister Andrew Little is overseeing proposed changes to New Zealand's abortion laws, which he wants removed from the Crimes Act and treated as a health issue.

He says he would have to take Dame Linda's word for it but he wasn't surprised.

"I haven't seen the figures and I haven't seen the analysis, that sounds like a credible explanation for it. We know that there's been huge pressure. We know the homelessness problem is particularly acute in Auckland - it has been for some time.

"And although the number of abortions has been steadily falling over the last five or so years I understand there has been an against trend increase in the last year or so,'' he said.

Judith Collins, National's spokesperson for housing, lives in Auckland and believed it was a bit of a long bow to say a lack of housing was solely to blame.

Ms Collins said career plans, the relationship with the father of the child and finances all played a part in a woman's decision to have an abortion but she would be happy to see some research on the matter.

"Rents have certainly increased markedly in parts of the country. Particularly I would have thought the age group we're talking about are more likely to be renters rather than home owners.

"I don't have any figures to suggest abortion rates have gone up because of rentals but if people are talking about the extra cost of living, I certainly think the cost of living is something that people do take into account,'' Ms Collins said.

Dame Linda also said a recommendation to extend abortion services beyond central Auckland to South Auckland and the North Shore had fallen on deaf ears.

Last year at the committee's annual review at select committee Dame Linda told MPs access to abortion services in Auckland was a serious issue and today she told MPs it had not improved.

"We hear everyday about the traffic and travel issues in Auckland and this is an issue,'' she said.

While the committee had met with people in Auckland requesting a service be provided in South Auckland "nothing has happened''.

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