A lack of housing may be contributing to a rise in the number of abortions in Greater Auckland for women of an age to normally have children, says the chair of the Abortion Supervisory Committee.
Members of the committee appeared before the justice select committee in Parliament today, telling MPs that there had been a rise in the number of abortions in Auckland for the first time in 12 years.
Latest numbers show that there were 2156 abortions in the Auckland region for the 25 to 34 age group in 2015. This rose to 2204 in 2016, and 2379 in 2017.
ASC chair Dame Linda Holloway told media after the meeting that the reasons for the increase would be worthy of proper research, given that other areas of New Zealand did not have an increase despite population growth.
The age range was typically when women had families, she said.
"It's wrong to speculate, but I suspect that housing, or lack of it, is one factor that impinges on the health of women in the reproductive age group.
"There may be social and environmental factors in Auckland and Greater Auckland that have an impact on the health of women in this reproductive age group."
There was overall a slight rise in the number of abortions in 2017 compared to 2016, but abortion rates were continuing to fall among young people - a 70 per cent fall in the last 10 years for those aged 15 to 19.
Holloway said she was not surprised by the slight increase overall as the per capita abortion rate was about as low as it could reasonably get.
The trend over the last decade has been a steady decline, in part because of an improvement in available sexual health information and access to long-term contraception.
Holloway echoed what she had told the justice committee a year ago, saying that first trimester abortion services were still absent in South Auckland and the North Shore, meaning women wanting abortions had to travel to central Auckland.
"We hear on the radio everyday about Auckland traffic and travel issues, and we do feel this is an issue."
She said the ASC had met with health providers in South Auckland about setting up a clinic there.
"They said they would talk about it, but nothing has happened. It's not frustrating for me, personally, but it's frustrating for the people of South Auckland.
"They do get healthcare, but they get healthcare where the access is more difficult than it probably ought to be."
She said the "tyranny of distance" to access services in rural areas was always an issue, but DHBs were doing what they could.
"It's very hard in Northland, with a very scattered population ... but they do do their best.
Last year Holloway said the committee has not met with the Justice Minister since 2014, and this year was no different.
"The committee has not met with the minister this year. We've been working with the Law Commission and we believe that the minister asked that that is what we should do."
Parliament is considering a Law Commission report into reforming abortion law, and Holloway told the justice committee that the ASC supported taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.