One of the reasons that abortion seems to be such a touchy issue is that we very rarely hear from those for whom the decision is not merely an abstract concept but a very real medical procedure. This provides an ideal environment for hate and hyperbole to overtake compassion and rationality.
Unfortunately very few women are willing to go public about their experiences and quite frankly who can blame them? The only time it is permissible for a woman to publicly state she's had an abortion is if she expresses sorrow and remorse, both valid emotions for some, but not always and to admit otherwise is open yourself up to vicious and vindictive personal attacks. Thus the picture that the general public has of those visiting the abortion clinic is quite likely to be a young teenager or even a tween.
But is this a realistic picture of abortion and who is exactly is painting it? The Herald was all too happy to quote Family First's statistics from its Media Release as the bible. The organisation, which advocates mandatory ultrasounds for all women contemplating abortion, has a very vested interest in painting abortion as a scourge of the youth and sure enough they did:
"Since 1991, the number of 11-14 year olds having an abortion has increased by 144%. The number of abortions for 15-19 year olds has increased by 74%. Each week, almost 80 teenagers have an abortion, and represent almost a quarter of all abortions performed in NZ.”
But is that an accurate snapshot of abortion?
Well no, just a small part of the picture.
According to the 2006 abortion statistics from Statistics New Zealand, the median age of women having an abortion was 24.5 years a figure that has remained stable at around 25 years over the last twenty years. In fact the age group that has the highest abortion rate aren't teenagers but the 20-24 age group followed by those women aged 25-29 years. Far more women over the age of 40 are having abortions than under the age 15 and contrary to public opinion the abortions weren't necessarily the result of a one night stand. A previous of study of abortion by Statistics NZ found that over almost 40 per cent of women undergoing an abortion were either married, in a defacto relationship or separated. Moreover half had already had at least one child when they decided to undergo an abortion. Yes that's right, half of the 18,000 abortions that happen in this country are being undertaken by women who are also mothers.
An interesting picture and far more complex than the one we are usually presented with.
Update: Thanks to I/S for the link to report from the Abortion Supervisory Committee. Interestingly those having abortions under the age of 15 make up less than 1 per cent of the total number. One wonders where Family First is getting their statistics from.