Abortion law in New Zealand has been the same for 40 years - it comes under the Crimes Act; it’s illegal unless certain criteria are met.
But this year, that could all change. The law is up for review.
Ahead of law reform, Stuff Circuit published Big Decision, an in-depth look at the abortion issue, and the first of five investigations in 2019, funded by NZ on Air.
Since abortion is deeply personal, we invited readers to submit their own stories.
Here is a selection of those submissions.
Some names have been changed, to protect privacy.
I think the current law is flawed. The steps as I remember them: exhausting. I knew an unfertilised egg wasn’t about to bleed out as planned on the 28th day of my cycle. My period had been like clockwork for 10 years. There was no expectation that would ever change. Suddenly I felt both soft like marshmallow and heavy like lead. My body began working with all its might to grow cells my brain was wishing with all its might it wouldn’t.
The perks of living on the West Coast are endless. So are the quirks. One not-quite-doctor in a community health centre confirms, through a blood test, that your oestrogen levels are elevated, and they schedule you to see a doctor 40 minutes away. They don’t seem capable of providing the timeline of how a termination is organised, or what’s involved. So you’re given a pamphlet and told to get to town in a week’s time. For a week I manically flip from exhausted crying to intense frustration that I’m being forced to wait in purgatory.
My doctor was awful. Not in a religious, preaching, pro-life way. She wanted me to act insane. She wanted me to prove that I would harm myself or the egg. How I would harm myself. She asked why I couldn’t be a parent. Whether I’d talked about it with enough/the right people. She asked about the sperm’s owner. She asked how much money I made. She asked what I would do if termination wasn’t possible. She asked what made me think I was unfit to be a parent. She made me feel like I was ‘lucky’. She made it feel like this was a decision I’d made, and one that I’d come begging to change, like I’d walked into a store requesting to return a sparkly top, when the sign clearly outside said ’no refunds’.
I then learnt I couldn’t take the pill until I’d had an ultrasound. “We can’t schedule a termination until we are sure you really are pregnant". Another two weeks. Two more weeks of fibres and tissue fusing themselves together. Two more weeks feeling like a criminal lurking in the shadows waiting for advice on my next hearing in the court dock.
It’s the West Coast, so you take an afternoon off work to drive to the one ultrasound machine, and someone puts gel on your stomach and waits to hear a heartbeat. The someone asks if you want to hear it. Or see it on the screen. I keep my index fingers firmly stuck in my ears and my eyes closed. The scan is sent to the ether. I walk out, and into an in-love, local couple who crook their heads when they see me.
A couple of days later you head back to the doctor. They schedule an appointment in Christchurch, four hours away. For next week. They warn you, you will still have to convince another psychiatrist you are at risk of harming yourself or the cells. You are literally told to continue to act unwell, because if not, the law dictates you will have a child. So you start rehearsing your best psychotic lines, silently.
You then have to get yourself to Christchurch. Find somewhere to stay for at least two nights. Day one you arrive at 9am and tell the evaluating psychiatrist a baby will ruin your life. Not just in an ‘inconveniently ruining my career, relationship, financial stability and mental health’, but a ‘I will throw myself off a cliff if this doesn’t happen today’ type of way. So you’re forced to be a liar, a burden on the healthcare system and one step away from being put in a padded room, because it’s a decision over your body you’re not entrusted to make on your own. One that New Zealand law thinks a couple of strangers are better qualified to make. One that will inevitably have a domino effect of changing every single decision for the rest of your life.
I’m moved from one room to another. I sign something. The nurses are kind, but it’s not comforting. I take a pill to stop the cells growing. It’s been 54 days since I last had cramps. I’ve known for 30 days. It’s not the decision that haunts me. It’s that for 30 days I had no control over my body, or my mind. It’s that New Zealand, the birthplace of suffragettes; a progressive, liberal country (one which provides paid time off for victims of domestic abuse, and one that will probably legalise marijuana consumption before changing its abortion laws!) thinks that the current arduous steps and sign-off required to allow a woman to make a decision on her body are relevant and working, is outrageous.
Time falls back into its natural rhythm.
Seven months later, my body and mind continued to grow by the day, living overseas; rich with the energy and experience they were always meant to.
For clarity - I was on birth control; it didn’t work. I had a lovely boyfriend; I didn’t tell him or anyone, because I was embarrassed that I seemed irresponsible, or that I’d be pitied. I’m now almost 30 and never, ever think about it as a decision ‘I made’. Just a really s....y health care system f...-up I had to live through, once, when I was 22.
I drove alone down a long driveway, pulling up at an old, unremarkable building hidden at the back of a public hospital.
It looked more like a rundown weatherboard home than a medical clinic. Further down the road is the STD clinic and back views of the hospital.
I felt like I was in a bad crime movie, meeting a drug lord in a shabby shack for a dodgy deal. I felt shame.
The waiting room did nothing to ease my mind. Other women sat quietly. Eyes downcast. A young Asian woman wept as she was led into a room. The door shut behind them and the rest of us waited for our turn. There was a young girl with a young boy; a young girl with an old man; and a middle-aged woman on her own.
As I sat waiting to see a doctor I felt faint with guilt, but I also felt relief. It had been a long and lonely journey.
I live in a small rural town where access to healthcare can be limited and slow. It's also the sort of place where you can bump into your GP, nurse, or medical clinic receptionist in the supermarket aisle, at a school assembly or on the football field with your children.It's a town where people on the surface seem to live perfect white-picket fence lives, and judging eyes are everywhere.
Behind my closed door, life wasn't very perfect. Far from it.
Six years ago, I got pregnant. It wasn't to my husband.
I had been living in an abusive marriage for several years. The relationship had never been healthy but being young, naive and vulnerable, somehow I let his behaviour slide. I normalised the narcissism. I accepted the abuse. I tolerated the threats. Until we had children.
I started to fight back, and he didn't like it.
As our marriage deteriorated, things spiralled and the life we had made together fell apart. During this time, we both had an affair. Shortly after my affair started I fell pregnant. I was still living with my now ex husband and our two children. The pregnancy made a bad situation, frankly, a nightmare.
I remember sitting on the toilet in shock holding the pregnancy test. I was in the thick of a marriage meltdown, trying to figure out how to leave with my children, hold down a fulltime job, be a mother, keep an affair secret ... my headspace was not healthy. I could not have this baby. I was terrified of my ex husband finding out. I was terrified of anyone finding out. The father of the child lived out of town and was also going through a separation. I felt unsupported and disconnected from him. I felt very, very alone.
I lost count of the number of times I sat in my car during work hours crying into the steering wheel. I was like a zombie and felt like I was plummeting into a deep, dark hole.
One of the hardest parts was going to my medical centre and having to face a young female doctor with a sweet, smiling face and doe eyes and tell her I couldn't have the baby. She offered to prescribe me iron pills in case I changed my mind. I felt like I was talking to a cardboard cutout. I CAN'T HAVE THIS BABY I wanted to scream in her face.
I ended up making an appointment at the same clinic with another female doctor who I felt was much more sympathetic and understanding. Over the course of the next eight weeks I communicated with her about scans, a doctor's certification for an appointment at the abortion clinic - for which I had to travel to a main centre as my GP was not allowed to do the referral. After my first scan, I was told I would need a second scan, which then got dropped. The whole process was lengthy, stressful and involved multiple days off to travel. By the time I was scheduled for the abortion I was suffering morning sickness and milk would drip from me in the shower.
The counselling part of the process I think is actually important. I was a wreck and given I had no-one I felt I could confide in, it was good to unload and process what was happening to me and make a reasoned choice about what I was doing. It is traumatic and any support is better than none. I found many of the healthcare workers professional and sensitive. I remember going alone to get the necessary ultrasound. I lay there as she clicked her mouse on the screen that was turned away from me. I have had two children and knew what she was doing. It was heartbreaking.
At the clinic, the doctor was also kind and concerned. When it was my turn to be led into a small room, like the woman before me, I could not hold back the tears. I cried, I sobbed - to the point the doctor asked if I was sure this was what I wanted to do. He said we could hold off. If I had delayed it any further, it would not have just been a matter of swallowing some pills. The trauma in my mind would be ten-fold. I told him I was sure. "Once you have taken the pill there is no going back," I remember him warning. I took the glass of water, and swallowed the pills.
The drug deal was done. I left the clinic and went to my car. I drove to my cousin's because I was told I should not be alone. I confessed last minute to my cousin about what I had been through, just in case there were complications. I didn't know what was going to happen. It was one of the most awful nights of my life. I drank a bottle of wine and tried to erase it all. Of course that didn't work. I lay in a cold, single bed, in a cold, strange room and just cried.
I think I tried to cry it all out that night, because I knew when I got home I would have to bury the pain in the garden, where I buried part of myself. I could not tell anyone. Over the course of the next few months, my marriage ended and life went on. I distracted myself with the stress of sorting a separation and keeping it together for my children. I never told work what happened. I never took time off. I had buried it. Or so I thought. I guess, some things buried, once watered, start breaking through the surface. My water was wine.
It was after a night out drinking with friends, about two years after the abortion, I finally cracked and spilled everything out to my mother. She had picked me up from a party. It must have been horrific for her. I know it was horrific for her. I saw it on her face. The worst part was, the main reason she was so horrified, so distraught, is because I had kept it to myself and not shared it with her. She was not able to help me through one of the worst times in my life. That hurt her.
It was in May I had the abortion. I think about that day, that experience all the time. I don't regret my decision but I punish myself constantly for it. I carry around guilt and shame. I carry around a grief that I have to hide from many. Thankfully now, not my mum.
I am a married 37-year-old and the mother of one rambunctious and adored child.
I thought of myself as the kind of woman who would never, ever have an abortion. By no means a staunch opponent of safe and legal choice – abortion was simply not ever going to be MY choice.
But in 2016, something catastrophic happened to our planned and very wanted pregnancy. I had to swallow my pride and choose the unthinkable: end my pregnancy to save my life.
In the current political climate, I cannot escape other people's opinions of what I should or should not have done with my crisis pregnancy. Most of these people have never had to face such a devastating decision themselves. Everyone has an opinion, but only my husband, my doctors and I hold the full information about our medical crisis. Only we were poised to make an informed, compassionate, and thoughtful decision.
On top of our crushing loss, society now stigmatises my family, cursing us with moral failure. They spit cruel words like murderer and baby-killer. Some have voiced opinions that I don't deserve the child I have, while others have felt it just to tell me that I should be in jail for life. Judgment and condemnation founded on a woman’s selfless decision to live. True empathy and compassion require treating people with kindness, even when your world views differ.
The lifesaving procedure that I needed sits within the Crimes Act and I feel like a criminal, a criminal who has been let off for good behaviour, having utilised this healthcare service to preserve maternal life. These legal details matter, they fuel the fires of cultural condemnation and weigh heavy on an already difficult family burden.
Early on in my grief journey, my sorrow was compounded by shame. I held many conflicted feelings uncomfortably, at once. Deep guilt for ending my pregnancy right alongside pride for my courageous and honourable sacrifice. Without it, my family would not only miss a branch of its family tree, my family would miss me, their mother and wife.
In time, I have come to reconcile with myself that no one has the right to condemn the actions that allow my husband to grow old with his wife and my son to grow up with his mother, yet condemnation persists, day in and day out.
Following my abortion experience, I now fiercely believe that no one has the right to condemn any woman who travels this road, no matter her set of circumstances. Some people try to comfort me by telling me that my actions were justified, an exception to their rules, but I know that I am not special. I am no different to any other woman who needs an abortion for her own personal and unique reasons. We are not the same person, our situations and plight are not identical, but our need to end our pregnancy is the same, our dignity equal, and the legal and cultural impediments we face are completely identical.
Having abortion in the Crimes Act stigmatises women and assigns moral failure. Having abortion in the Crimes Act oppresses bereaved mothers and keeps us marginalised. Obstructing women from controlling their bodily autonomy in a safe and accessible manner is immoral, unethical and should be impermissible.
Women and families deserve your trust. We know our situations better than anyone. The law should reflect an ethic of autonomy, trust, and dignity. Without it, women suffer. I suffer.
In 1996, aged 37, childless by choice, in a crumbling marriage, I found myself pregnant. The shock of learning of the pregnancy was indescribable. From the instant I found out that I was on the road to motherhood my initial gut reaction was 'don't have this child'. It rose above the possibility of continuing with the pregnancy so powerfully. It was like a neon sign flashing before my eyes many times per day... over and over. Sure, the odd scenario of a 'happy family' outcome ran through my mind, but my own childhood (not a physically abusive one) was such that I have never experienced any maternal yearning. I just don't like babies and truly believe that being a birth-mother was never, ever the right thing for me to do.
I was fortunate that my husband said he would support my decision either way and I believe he meant what he said. However, realistically, aged 53, I could tell he wasn't looking at becoming a Dad again with great glee and I don't blame him for that. We both knew that 'kids' were never planned to be part of our 25-year relationship.
I confided in a friend, who supported me through the medical 'hoops'. I was fortunate that my wonderful old-school GP was impartial, supportive and non-judgmental. He never shared his own personal view with me. He just quietly explained the process to follow and placed a very reassuring hand on my shoulder as I left the consulting room. It meant a lot to me that he really cared.
I was able to go through the rest of the pre-abortion process in my hometown. I was treated with respect throughout, but can categorically say that my experience wasn't 'abortion on demand'. I was questioned hard and counselled hard. I am not bitter about this, and understand that for the conditions of the law to be met, this had to be more than a 'tick box' exercise, but wonder if the decision to terminate had not been upheld, how I would have coped as I progressed through the pregnancy and beyond. Interestingly, the counsellor, at the end of our discussion, told me she had never met a woman who was more clear in her own mind, having considered all options, that an abortion was the right thing for her.
I flew to Auckland for the abortion with my then-friend in tow. I vividly remember the process. I was given the option to 'opt-out' many times before taking the pill that was the point of no return. A few hours later it was all over and I was flying back home. At that time I was exhausted and numb from the experience.
Fortunately, my recovery both physically and emotionally was quick. To this day I have no regrets - I made the right decision for me and for the child that would have grown within me. Yes, every four years, on 29 February (the date of my termination), I remember the day and calculate how old my child would have been and reaffirm my decision to myself.
Footnote: There is a little irony in 'my abortion story' given that my then husband and I chose to take a number of troubled teenagers into our home. We gave them all the love, support and guidance that we could over many years. Obviously my mothering instincts kicked in when the children were heading for adulthood, but not before.
When I was 18 I had to go it alone and get an abortion. I can pinpoint it as one of the most horrific experiences I have ever gone through.
I haven’t thought about it for a few years. I haven’t told a soul - my mother (a devout Catholic) has no idea.
I went to the only female GP in the small town I grew up in, only to be chastised and declined a referral.
The line she said, which played in my head during the procedure and for years to come: “You do realise this is murder, right? You’ll be a murderer of an innocent baby if you go through with this.”
She said she wanted no part in the killing.
I was avoiding my family GP yet he ended up being the one to refer me. I could sense the judgment, but he liked my parents and probably thought he was doing them a favour.
On the day of the procedure there were Christians lining the entrance to the hospital, protesting against abortions. The Crimes Act was a favourite for them to throw at us young women having to go past them. The “hallway of shame”, as I would learn it was dubbed by the nurses inside. They were harassed as well.
The procedure was performed, from memory, on a Thursday. The Christians got the timetable.
I remember being so scared. It was tough enough having to make this decision (I was in no position to be bringing up a human) and spent weeks in absolute terror, crying, thinking about life and what it would look like if I had a baby, then crying again because I couldn’t even keep a goldfish alive for three weeks.
Afterwards was the worst: not just the trauma of having to go through it but the judgment that came with it. I recognise now that I probably had depression, but I didn’t tell a soul: I thought no one would want to help someone who murdered a baby, given the frosty reception I got trying to get help.
I feel if I had been given the support, the five years following the abortion may have played out differently. I did go to uni and got my qualifications, but everything else fell apart.
For years I really did believe I was a murderer.
I can see everything for what it is now, and I do hope for young women going through this that their experience is vastly different from mine.
Footnote: After watching ‘Big Decision’, Shaniqua decided she was strong enough to talk about her abortion, and told her sister, who said it gave her context for what the family had dubbed her “crazy years”.
They agreed, though, that it was best their mother was left in the dark.
I think I was lucky to have quite a sympathetic doctor. I felt fully informed even before the next consultation, but wasn’t actually aware of the Crimes Act legislation until now. I thought it was a medical process.
I actually chose to view the ultrasound when it took place, just in case seeing it made me change my mind.
When I went to the clinic in Christchurch there were protestors with placards. I wish there had been a dicks sign there.
They made me feel a lot more anxious, but when I left I was disappointed there were none around: I really wanted to give them a piece of my mind.
I had a termination 42 years ago. At 19 weeks I was the size of a bus, with so much swelling, and a scan picked up that she was severely disdabled.
I was put into hospital. The staff were at times cruel. If their opinion of abortion was 'against' then I sure knew about it. No counselling, just told my baby would be incinerated.
Although my abortion was legal, all these years later I still feel incredible guilt for having it done.
2003: I was a naive 16-year-old. I found myself at Family Planning looking at a positive test. The moment the nurse asked what I was going to do, I knew I wouldn't be going through with this pregnancy.
I had no family support, my own mother had already told me she was too young to be a grandmother, and the relationship I was in was never going to last.
The father was supportive and took me to every appointment, and on the day of the procedure, he was by my side.
Going into the theatre was terrifying. I was offered one last "are you sure?"
I was sure.
Waking up in recovery, overhearing the nurses talking about me and my age, I felt like I was at my lowest point of my life, and guilt sunk in. Was I supposed to be grieving? It was the most painful thing I've ever experienced - I cried for days.
I still hurt over the decision I made - it will stay with me. But I stand by it because if I’d gone through with the pregnancy I'd never have been able to provide the stable and loving home that every child deserves.
It took me many, many years to decide to start a family; I was always so afraid that somehow I'd be punished for my decision, and not be able to have children. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Women don’t have abortions because they're easy, they have them because at that time it's what's best for them.
I was married with two children under five when I became unexpectedly pregnant a third time.
I was devastated.
I had postnatal depression after my first, was depressed throughout pregnancy number two, (not something many people talk about or know how to deal with) and had really bad postnatal depression again after my second was born. When I found myself pregnant again I felt a mix of terror and dread. I knew immediately I couldn’t keep the baby. I felt like I was drowning in sadness and panic and fear.
I saw a Family Planning doctor who agreed that a third pregnancy placed me at risk of another bout of severe postnatal depression, which would impact my life and those of my two children.
I went forward for abortion services. The experience itself felt like a huge relief. I didn’t consider the baby to be my child, like I had with the other two. The doctor who performed the procedure was kind and caring. Afterwards I didn’t experience any feelings of guilt or sadness, and trust me, I know what deep sadness feels like.
But…I was surrounded by people who felt shame, anger, Christian outrage, disappointment, grief, disbelief.. you get the picture. Not one person supported my decision, but they knew they couldn’t physically stop me. Looking back, I don’t know how I found the strength to stay true to what I knew I had to do. My husband variously cried, threatened and belittled me throughout the four-plus weeks I waited for my appointment. He called me hard. I suppose he was processing his grief and trying his best to force me to change my mind. Of course, once the baby was born, he’d go back to work and I’d be stuck at home, in an emotional desert and at great personal and emotional risk of actually not surviving motherhood. He could only see the now, not the next day or month or year.
He insisted on accompanying me to the clinic. They handed me the tablets. He stood beside me and delivered a final damning suggestion: you don’t have to do this. My abiding memory is one of sheer isolation. Of knowing that I was the only one who cared about me.
The process itself felt alien.
I didn’t grieve for that child, he or she wasn’t a child to me. But worse was the judgements from the three people who knew. I told no one else. Not for years. Why would you? People think it’s a topic that’s up for open review, that their opinion might matter to me, regardless of my own feelings and experience. That I felt relief sits awkwardly with a lot of people, usually those who think women easily roll up for abortions without any care or concern. But really, how it feels for the woman IS irrelevant. Happy, not happy. Guilty, uncaring, whatever. The service itself should be about improving and supporting a woman’s life, no matter why that’s needed.
My marriage faltered soon after this experience. I realised through this that my (now ex) husband valued an unborn foetus’ life over mine. That’s a powerful realisation. He’d fight harder for that life, than he would for my life, my well-being. Good to know, huh?
I have no regrets about that time in my life, but I do occasionally reflect on what a third child would have changed for me and my life course. Sliding doors.
At the time, I had to choose a path that removed and relieved a known and probable ‘pain’.
I didn’t have to come up with a fake reason: the known reason was enough to qualify me. But what lasts for me is the judgment of others. The weight of their disapproval and disappointment. The need, then, to keep it a secret. The reminder of the freedom to make a choice being also the ability to prevent my husband’s choice from overriding mine.
Side note: A feature of the marriage was that his choice always overrode mine. Sometimes I wonder if his anger was about the abortion itself or the fact that I could choose for me without him being able to veto that.
I hope women are less constricted now. The generation after me is a group of women with voices and choices. I’m so heartened to see this strength and self awareness amongst younger women now. I’ve since shared my story with my daughter, not in detail, but she knows what I did and why. I hope if she’s ever in a similar position that she knows I’m on her side, no matter what. Not sure how her father would feel, even now.
I had my abortion at age 19 in the USA. We had used protection, but obviously something went wrong: five weeks later when I thought I was dying of a stomach bug - sick all the time - I found out I was expecting.
The clinic was a white concrete building in an unexpectedly suburban area of town, with no signs, just a handful of car parks to the side. I checked in and sat in the waiting area with the others, listening for my name while not making eye contact with anyone. By this time it was too late for the pill (a medical abortion): it was a surgical procedure. I chose to be given a light sedative so I would hopefully sleep through the worst of it, which I did. As soon as it was over I had an empty feeling in my stomach but a feeling of relief in my head. I rushed out of there as fast as I could before realising that coming down from the sedative made me more sick than being pregnant.
Years later I remember the process but I have never regretted that decision: I went on to have three children at the right time, with the right person.
We were in a good place, had a house, good jobs, vacations. Then I unexpectedly got pregnant again - you’d think by now I would have worked it out, but no, this one was a mystery. To this day I am a little unsure how it happened. I was devastated we didn't have room for another child. Our house was only three bedrooms, our car sat only five, and to top it off the three we had were finally all in school. A baby was not going to work.
I went to my GP and told her I wanted it gone. She was our family doctor and I could tell this news shocked her, but she was very professional and told me the process. First, the referral to the councillor to outline why we shouldn't have another baby. (What do you mean I have to prove I don’t want it? Where is the white clinic where I just call and book?). In and out in a matter of hours, a few hundred dollars poorer, but no longer carrying an unwanted foetus. It had never occurred to me to this point that New Zealand didn't agree with abortions. I thought as an adult it was my right - my choice what happens with my body.
As it turns out just not having the room in my car for a fourth was not a good enough reason to terminate, and because I couldn't say that having a fourth child would be the worst thing that could happen, we went ahead with the pregnancy. We grew to accept this and were excited about the new baby. So were our other children. We had purchased a bigger car and had booked the builder to extend our house.
Could you believe it that at the 20-week scan we found out that our unborn child had a (previously unknown to this point in our lives) genetic condition that meant they would suffer a life of illness and that their life expectancy would be half of ours. ‘Are you kidding me’, was all I could think: too late to terminate, now they had to perform a medical procedure on me that ran a risk of misscarige. It went smoothly.
The rest of the pregnancy was based around hundreds of tests and doctor appointments and learning about this condition. His first two years of life were based around a hospital bed. We almost lost him a couple of times, but he kept fighting. And now, at four, he is a typical boy, but his condition will be a burden on his health and on our family as a whole.
I still think ’what if we could have terminated, what would our lives be like now? Would we be living carefree or would we be missing something special?’ Funny, though, I never wonder about that first abortion.
It should always be a choice of the mother. We should have control of what we choose for our own body. Backwards thinking and laws are outdated and cruel.
I was 25 when I found out I was pregnant. I already had a 6-month-old son and was in an abusive relationship with a partner that had addiction issues. I didn't want to bring another child into that situation. I made the decision alone and went to my local GP to discuss this with my doctor.
She was lovely and completely supported my decision and sent the referral through which made it easier for me as I didn’t feel like I was being judged. My best friend at the time was different. She was completely judgmental and told me I was a murderer. She made me feel like a horrible person so I told her I wasn't interested in being friends with her anymore. Six years later and we still haven’t spoken.
I drove the 600km return trip to the hospital by myself overnight and told no one about it. Looking back I wish I had have told someone, so I could have had support through it all. I still stick by my decision today. I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been for me to leave that abusive relationship with two children and carry on being the best mum I could be on my own.
I married a Pākehā Kiwi. I am Caribbean. After immigrating to NZ I was not introduced to his family or friends, and was left home with the "brown children" when there was a family reunion he organized, because his mother threatened suicide if we attended.
At home during the day with two kids under two years, he gave me money only to feed the kids. I worked some nights to fund food, clothes for the kids and me, dental care, furnishing the home, or even going to town by bus. Sewing, knitting, keeping chooks, hand washing, natural drying everything... I had no appliances, cooking economically, life was grim, exhausting. He left me home but spent on pot, cruising bars and booze parties for his mates. The vicious slap to my face and my fightback that sent him to A&E, signalled that the marriage was over.
The family doctor said I was stressed, malnourished, yes, pregnant and puzzlingly, ordered a test for STD. I objected because I had slept with only my husband. But when I relented and the test returned positive for a disease, my husband admitted to having gay sex throughout the marriage. Unhinged, I choose a termination.
With neither funds nor family here I flung myself into exhaustive part- time jobs; cleaning, writing, renting a room in the house. Paying the GP, specialists, travelling from Wellington to Auckland with the kids for the procedure were harrowing. I cried at that being the best option in my circumstances but I do not regret my decision. I have kept my consequent vow to be the most caring, protective and generous Mum to the living two.
I was young, about 24, with two children and a new partner who wasn't the father of my children. He moved in without my consent. He just didn't leave. I had started picking up on signs I was in trouble and needed to find a way to get out of the situation. He was starting to become abusive. I managed to find another home and got away. It was in this period that I found out I was pregnant. I was devastated and scared. I was worried about having a child with someone so unstable. I was worried for myself, my children and the child to be.
I went to the doctor and was booked into Lyndhurst Hospital.
I remember meeting the doctor and basically explaining I wouldn't be able to cope mentally with having my child.
I also explained I had no idea how far along I was in the pregnancy as my periods were very irregular. Because of that he said I should go for a scan to determine the date, for my safety.
I went for my scan and saw a tiny dot on the screen which was heartbreaking. I was told I was very early on in my pregnancy. I can't remember exactly but I think about four weeks.
I was booked in for the termination.
I arrived scared and alone. I have no family support as they live in another country.
I was asked to put on a robe and wait in a room that had two beds divided by a curtain.
I got dressed and sat on the bed, then a nurse gave me a pill or two to take that was meant to be some sort of sedative.
It had no affect on me.
I was asked to lie down and they took me into theatre.
I had a line put in my arm and my legs put in stirrups.
The lady who put the line in my arm started talking to me about the price of wool. I found this disturbing, but I thought - she is trying to distract me. I was nervous and went along with the conversation.
The doctor put the long instrument in me they use to do the termination, while the other lady kept talking about wool.
All of a sudden I felt the most excruciating pain and screamed.
I said "what have you done?"
I knew immediately something was really wrong.
The doctor said "I'm sorry, I have perforated your uterus”.
She had torn my uterus by pushing the instrument right through it.
I was wheeled back to the first room with two beds.
I was crying a lot and saying “no” a lot.
The doctor kept saying sorry and explained an ambulance was on the way. I was then left to wait for the ambulance.
I remember lying there terrified, not knowing if I was going to live. I had to ring my ex partner, as I had no one else, and ask them to pick my children up from school/daycare.
I hung up and cried. I didn't want them knowing about this private moment. As I was lying there I realised there was a woman in the bed next to me waiting for her termination. The curtain was drawn but I could hear her.
I called out "I'm so sorry if I have scared you". She said not to worry, and she hoped I would be okay.
I think of that lady often and how scared she must have been knowing what had just happened to me. She would have heard the whole thing.
The ambulance arrived and I was taken to hospital.
Then I was left. I remember someone saying they wanted to wait to see if my wound would heal on its own, which I couldn't believe.
I was left for the rest of the day and night. Nurses came and I remember telling them I thought I was dying, but they looked at me with a condescending face, like I was exaggerating. I could feel my whole torso filling up with blood. I felt it swishing all through me like I was becoming a waterbed.
I wouldn't take painkillers all night as I was convinced if I fell asleep I would die. I felt I was judged for having an abortion, and so didn’t have many rights.
The next morning a doctor came to check on me and I was rushed off for surgery.
If the surgery was done straight away they could have performed keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) but as I was left to internally bleed they had to cut me right open (laparotomy) as the blood clot was huge - about the size of a rugby ball.
I needed full blood transfusions, and was so sore.
I went home after a couple of days and had a hard time recovering physically and emotionally - especially while having to take care of my two children.
I never regretted having the termination, but it changed me forever. I mourned my child that could have been, but knew it was the right decision. Many years later I found out more information about why it went so wrong and took the hospital and termination clinic to the Health and Disability Commissioner.
It was discovered they never read my scan. They tried to blame it on the receptionist.
That scan would have showed them I was too early to have a termination.
There is a period of time early in the pregnancy where your uterus is really soft and they are meant to wait for it to harden up a bit - around 7-8 weeks I believe - before it is safe.
I was told that there was a policy change because of what happened to me, and now all women are meant to be scanned before a termination, rather than just guessing off their last period.
I was paid a small amount of compensation and was eventually sent generic apology letters.
For many years I felt I couldn't complain or talk about it as it is such a controversial subject and has a stigma attached to it. I'd heard it is still classed as a criminal offence. I felt I had signed my rights away by doing something that a lot of society disagreed, with even though I knew my decision was what was best for not only me, but my family and society as a whole. I am scarred physically and emotionally. I still know what I did was right.
Editor’s note: Family Planning advises that other methods of termination of pregnancy are safe, even very early, including early medical abortion.
Growing up (as a Catholic, albeit non-practising) I always told myself and others that while I wasn’t against abortion, I could never have one myself. I knew abortion was in the Crimes Act and prior to my experience had no problem with this as I thought it was a procedure only for people who were 'careless'.
When I was 22, I was diagnosed with cancer, something I never expected. However, as there was a high risk of losing my fertility through treatment and I knew one day I would want children, I got my eggs harvested through a fertility clinic. As a part of getting fertility preservation, there are a number of forms that must be signed and decisions that must be made - including what should happen to your eggs if you die or no longer want them. I didn’t think I would be faced with this so young and spent a few days deciding how I felt about having them destroyed. Ultimately, I decided that if I were to get my eggs frozen then I was okay with altering the natural course of the human body - which made my decision to get an abortion much easier.
Less than two months after my last round of chemo and almost exactly one year since my diagnosis, I went on a trip to celebrate going into remission and had a one night stand. A few weeks later, and only the second week into my new job, I found out I was pregnant. I knew as soon as I saw the positive result what I wanted to do. I told my mum, who was at first angry and upset, but ultimately supportive. I went to Family Planning with a friend and got referred to the abortion clinic in my city.
I found the process to get the abortion relatively straight forward; an ultrasound, two appointments at the abortion clinic and then the surgical procedure and I was done, no more pregnancy.
As I had gone through a year of cancer treatment, I thought of it as being just another procedure - something that had to be done. In my mind, this made it easier to deal with. After the abortion was completed, I asked to see the foetus to give myself closure and was told that my foetus, along with all the other’s that weren’t kept, would be cremated and scattered in the area of the cemetery for stillbirths and miscarriages.
I wish I could be open about it with all of my family, however I haven’t told people because of fear of judgment and disappointment. I’ve now realised that this stems from society looking down (as I once did) on those that get abortions as irresponsible. This view is perpetuated by abortion still being in the Crimes Act.
I was 24 years old, in an on again, off-again relationship that was volatile, with a 26-year-old man.
I had a seven-year-old daughter. I’d raised her completely on my own.
I was studying full time towards a tertiary qualification. I was an adult survivor of family violence as a child, with no standing family support.
In general life was miserable. I was depressive and I struggled daily with basic living costs and mental wellness.
The man I was seeing and I had an agreement that we would not use condoms, but would use the withdrawal method. We agreed that we were not seeing other people.
He was going to be visiting Australia for three months for work.
The night prior to him leaving we had sex, and without my permission, or warning me, he didn’t use the withdrawal method. He simply said “oops”.
Twelve days later I took a pregnancy test. Positive.
I had to see counsellors and doctors and I had to justify to people who knew nothing about my life why I wanted an abortion.
It was humiliating. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. And I felt like I was doing something wrong, even though I knew it was right for me and my current situation.
The difficulty that I still live with today is not that I had a termination, but what I had to go through to justify it, and the fact that I have been called a murderer for doing it.
To this date I do not regret having an abortion.
I'm a Kiwi, but thankfully I was living in Australia when I fell pregnant a decade ago. My husband and I were in the slow spiral of the breakup of our brief marriage, and it was clear there wasn't going to be an ‘us’ in six months time, let alone in the nine months till the baby was born.
The state of Victoria's abortion laws were lenient and all I had to do was go and talk to a doctor to request a referral to the abortion clinic.
I explained to the doctor that my husband and I were breaking up and that there wasn't going to be a family for this child. He listened to me and kindly said that he was sorry to hear about my situation and then we discussed the different locations that I could go to for my ultrasound and to get the pills I would need to take. I could then take the pills in the safety and comfort of my home, at a time I chose.
The abortion itself wasn't as bad as I was expecting. I tried to keep my fluids up and resigned myself to needing to do a washing load of towels the next day, that I had bled on over the course of the afternoon. But the next day I had my future ahead of me, and that was worth an afternoon of discomfort.
I came back to New Zealand the same person I was when I’d left, independent and able to plan out my future exactly as I chose.
I'll always be grateful to have been under the care of a health system which listened to my voice, when asking for a medical procedure that affected my body and future so profoundly.
Only a select few know I had an abortion.
Was this a decision I ever thought I would make? Frankly no. I was a midwife and had loved being around children all my life. My prior jobs had involved looking after children and I was already a mum to two beautiful children. How then did I find myself in a clinic talking with yet another doctor about terminating this pregnancy? And feeling really clear that this was the absolute right decision for me and my family.
I was in a relationship at the time with a guy younger than me. I was in my late 30s and he was in his 20s. He was looking for something with no strings attached and I, sadly, was in love with him.
I had been through a difficult divorce and had met this guy who seemed to care. He did on the surface. Until I got pregnant.
We had been in a ‘relationship’ for almost three years. When I say relationship, it was not one where we were dating openly. He was near me when he wanted a good time and I stupidly took whatever time he spent with me as a sign he loved me too.
I wasn’t reckless. I was taking the pill and so it was quite a shock to discover I was pregnant. I knew the guy would be shocked too, but he was brutal. When I got up the courage to tell him. I was told I ‘would ruin his life’ if I had the baby, that he ‘would never, ever support me’ that I was, ‘on my own’. Oh and, ‘how could you be so stupid?’
I told a friend who was so supportive and kind and offered her congratulations but I felt no joy, no love, and I knew I did not want to raise another child on my own. I did not want this baby.
I waited for this view to change. And waited. But it never did. I went to my GP, who clearly thought I should keep the baby. He said ‘you have raised two other children and you can do it again’. He said ‘you will live to regret this decision’, and briefly I thought he might be right, but he wasn’t. I had the required scan and was asked by the sonographer if I wanted to see the baby. I chose to look, thinking this would be the moment I would change my mind. But when I saw the tiny little being on the screen I felt nothing. No love, nothing. Just a firmer resolve that I did not want this pregnancy.
I went through the drawn out hoops of seeing another doctor in the clinic, a counsellor, and yet another doctor before finally getting a date to end the pregnancy. I took a friend who supported me and I’m so very grateful for her presence. She held my hand when I took the pill, which they made clear would mean I could not change my mind, and was there when I came back into the room when it was over.
Was this journey easy? No it wasn’t. There were lots of tears and there was a grief. The process was long and drawn out and I felt the need to continually justify my decision in order for the legal side of things to be met.
The staff at the clinic and the doctors were professional and kind, though, and. I will always be grateful for that. They held my hand and supported me as I walked through the toughest time of my life.
This journey happened seven years ago and to this day I can honestly say I made the best decision not to continue with that pregnancy.
I'm one of those horrible monsters who has had two terminations. Some people can forgive one, but once it's two, you're lazy and don’t bother with birth control - and all that mindless crap that people who have no idea like to spout at you.
My first abortion was in 2010. I already had two beautiful boys who had come only 15 months apart, one in 2007 and one in 2008. My marriage was on the rocks, my husband unhappy with his job and feeling depressed. It was looking more and more likely that we would divorce. I knew I was pregnant before I missed a period - I knew what it felt like.
On a half day from work I took a test, and when it came back positive I called my husband in a panic. I wanted him to come home and tell me it would be fine, that we could do this the same way we'd done it before. He didn't. He could barely look at me when I told him, and I knew this would be it. The nail in the coffin of our marriage.
After a few hours, and having picked up our other two children, we talked it through for a few hours and we both knew we couldn’t have this child.
Going to my doctor was the hardest step - he made me feel so ashamed. He wouldn’t refer me, but he did give me the name of a doctor I could see instead. (After that I hated seeing him, and he’s no longer my doctor).
Once I reached the right place, they made me feel so much better. They talked it through with me, listened to all my fears and doubts, and gave me my options without once making me feel like a monster. They referred me and I went on to the clinic. I had to have an ultrasound, of course - my husband came and held my hand, even looked at the screen. I didn't. I knew what it would show - I'd done this twice before - and I didn't need to see it again.
The scan showed I was past the stage of being able to just take a pill, so it was the full D & C (dilation and curettage). The nurses were beautiful with me, my doctor amazing. They let me keep my iPod on so I wouldn't panic during the procedure, and within 15 minutes, it was done. My husband took me home, holding me tight. We organised for our kids to be looked after by my best friend who had no idea what was going on. No one did, this was between my husband and me,I and we had made our decision.
In 2015 my husband was in the last stages of university, I was looking forward to having that all behind us so I’d be able to work part time and spend more time with the kids.
We'd worked hard on our relationship and we were rock solid. This time when I got those two pink lines at Christmas, we were ecstatic and so excited. We found an amazing midwife and everything was going smoothly. This had to be the healthiest I had been while pregnant. We worked hard together, eating right, going for walks every evening, everything I was supposed to do. At our 20 week scan we were excited to find out what we were having. If asked, we would say we didn't care, but we both knew we wanted a girl. When the technician told us we were having a girl we gushed over the fact that we would be swapping Spiderman for Frozen, my husband grinning brightly at me.
But then the technician went quiet. She stopped looking at us and then excused herself.
I freaked out thinking our girl’s heart had stopped. But it was so much worse than that.
A senior doctor came in, barely looked at either of us and then said, "I'm sorry your daughter has holoprosencephaly and that is incompatible with life.''
I don't know when he left, I just remember instantly hating him. We sat in a room alone for what felt like hours before a doctor came to talk to us. He was bright and lovely and offered us any help we needed, but when we went home that night I remember crying with everything in me.
During the next three weeks we went back and forth to maternal foetal medicine in Christchurch. I called my boss and told him I wouldn't be back in, that I wasn't sure I would ever be back in. He approved the leave I had been carefully accruing, and added two weeks of compassionate leave, without me even asking.
After talking to doctors, to neurologists, to every expert we could, we knew she couldn't stay with us. We had to think about our sons as well, about how this would impact the whole family. I wanted to keep her, but when the doctor told me she wouldn't know my face, wouldn't know we loved her and she would spend her very short life in and out of hospital I knew I couldn't. Selfishly, I didn't want this pain.
So we chose to bring her into the world. Because I was nearly 23 weeks the procedure meant giving birth to her. First, though, we had to top her heart. I won’t go into detail. It’s painful enough for me to think about without saying it out loud. But once she was gone, a part of me broke.
She was delivered the next day at 5.53 in the evening. She looked perfect. This little button who had her biggest brother's nose and her big brother’s ears. She was so perfect, it was hard to fathom she was so sick. It's been four years since I delivered her and my arms still ache with the need to hold her again.
So I have had an early abortion and a late term termination. I've seen this system from all sides, and I would never judge anyone who chose this path. I talk freely about my daughter and what we went through.
But, because of the stigma, nobody but my husband knows about my first abortion.
My story of abortion could’ve been worse.
I had a terrible experience in Christchurch in the 1990s. I was raped by a friend of a friend who I had stupidly let into my apartment one evening in summer.
I excused myself to go to the loo and he followed behind.
After they did the rape kit I was given a morning after pill, which I took, but unfortunately threw up. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I wasn’t in a fit state of mind. It never occurred to me I would become pregnant.
Weeks later, I’d gone to Australia to try to relax with friends, and I started to feel sick. I found out I was 13 weeks pregnant.
As much as I didn’t want to have an abortion, I wasn’t strong enough to move forward with the pregnancy.
The doctors and counsellors were amazing.
I had the opportunity to be awake or asleep. I chose to be awake, with my best friend holding my hand.
Abortion is difficult regardless of how the pregnancy came about.
But I had grace and dignity shown to me when I was completely stripped bare.
Christchurch Hospital, the police and the Rape Crisis team were amazing.
I wish other women had the same experience.
Time has left only a smudge on my heart.
I still feel very sad for having to have an abortion, but I don’t regret it.
My first termination happened at 19. I was in a committed relationship, but only in my second year of university, and on heavy medication for a health issue at the time. I knew deep down I wasn't at all ready for motherhood, but it turned out the decision was removed from me anyway as the medication I was on meant a high risk of complications and defects should the pregnancy continue. What I wasn't prepared for was that because of the reasons behind the termination, the people around me, while meaning well, ignored the struggle that 19-year-old had coming to terms with the decision, and the profound loss that was felt afterwards. Immediately following the termination was a period of destructive behaviour until I was finally able to get back on course, with the love and support of my partner and parents, who never once faltered.
Fast forward four years. I'd finished university by then, had a decent job, the same loving partner, and those two little blue lines sparked joy. What I wasn't to know was that giving birth to that beautiful little girl sparked memories of the baby I had terminated. Thoughts of that child, how old he/she would be, what they would look like, etcetera, exacerbated what I was to find out two years later was a case of postnatal depression. Therapy and meds eventually sorted that, but not before a job loss and the beginning of the disintegration of a marriage. Another beautiful baby girl finally followed, but born into what was now a single parent household - my once caring husband worn down by a sometimes unstable and difficult wife, a new woman and a new life across the ditch far a far more attractive prospect.
My second termination happened four years ago. A lot of time had passed - I'm older, definitely wiser, with two beautiful daughters and a fantastic job. And a wonderful man who I know would have supported my pregnancy and our baby if that was the path I chose. But we weren't 'together'. Just two lonely people in their 40s seeking comfort in each other. I didn't want to bring another child into this world to raise alone. Walking back into the same clinic I had been in 20 years before was one of the hardest things I have done. And this one I grieved harder than the first - knowing I was saying goodbye to my last chance for another baby, a baby I had actually desperately wanted. I whispered 'I'm sorry', and wept alone.
Both times the decision was not made lightly. A mix of anger, disappointment, and sadness pervaded as I weighed up the pros and cons - the second time knowing first hand what either decision would bring. Sitting in the waiting room at the clinic we all avoid eye contact, talk in whispers to our support person (if indeed you have one) and tissues are readily available. Counselling is offered - both pre and post - but I wonder how many actually take up the offer. I prefer to grieve alone. It is a big decision, and that decision, while right, can be the most difficult to live with.
I am a young mum with a baby son that I absolutely adore. Sadly his father didn't share the same feelings as me and left us when our son was still a wee baby
I leave my son with my Mum and go on a partying good time, fun-filled binge-drinking drug- taking spree with friends to dull the pain of rejection. I end up with a nice guy who didn't understand that I am messed up and not looking for anything more than fun and good times...
A few weeks later my period is late and then it doesn’t come at all.
I tell a friend what’s happening. I’m desperate and plead with her to help me. She suggests I make and drink - a concoction of simple garden plants and the roots of various weeds. I agree, but all it does is make me vomit and even more sick than I already am...
A trip to the local clinic confirms I am pregnant: absolute sheer and utter panic set in - to say that I was freaking out is an understatement.
I absolutely can't do this, no way.
I can't do this because of the awful time I had with the birth of my son, complications during the birth then the worst bout ever of postnatal depression and subsequent breakup of my relationship put me off going through that pain and anguish again.
I just can't do it... mentally I am a mess.
The nurse at the clinic is kind, understanding, non-judgmental, and makes all the necessary appointments...
Going to those appointments and counselling is torture, though. I am desperate, and have to make these people understand that I physically and mentally cannot go through another pregnancy, and no, I will not regret having the procedure.
The sheer guilt of getting myself into this mess is also playing on my mind: have I been a slut? Sleeping with the first guy that shows some interest in me so I can tell myself I'm not ugly. Why was I not more careful about what I was doing?
I spend days away from home trying to think of what to do. My Mum and family have no idea what’s happening or why I am away so much, but Mum knows something is up. I can see she is hurting that I can't confide in her, but I can't tell her what’s going on, because of her strict pro-life religious background, and the shame I would cause her and Dad. I am a train wreck just waiting to crash.
Going to the clinic by myself is awful. Can other people tell what I am there for? Do they know what I am about to do? What must they think of me? I have seen ads and protests, and I go into a kind of survival/denial mode.
And then it is my turn. Will it hurt? Am I going to feel any of it? What will I feel like when I wake up?
It’s over. And shortly afterwards I’m walking out the door on my way to catch the next bus home.
The bus ride home is a blur. All night I feel like a zombie. Empty. Hollow. Relief that it is done. Guilt that it is done. Shame that it is done. Can my family tell?
My friend is angry when she finds out. And from that day, we talk less, and eventually lose touch with each other. She told a few other friends and they don't understand why I did it. One wants to physically harm me: she spat in my face that I had killed a gift that people like her would never be able to have...
The guy never ever knew. I see him years later and he is still wanting to give it another shot. I bluntly tell him he would be better off with someone that would love him far more than I ever could. He looks hurt. I avoid him after that because I feel terrible for being so horrible to him.
Sadly, a few years later I go through the same situation with a close family member who chose the same path as me. I am glad she let me support her, so she is not by herself at such a lonely and difficult time
This happened 30 years ago and I still carry within me today the guilt and shame of what I did, so much so that I can't even write the word let alone say it. Not even my family or the one or two close friends I have now know what I did. And all these years later I don't know if society has developed an empathetic understanding of the mental anguish and turmoil that women like me have gone through when making the choice of undergoing this procedure - or why we even make this choice.
This is my story and writing it today is as difficult as it was living it all those years ago.
Maybe I still need to make peace with myself.