The number of women who died after abortions went wrong began to be recorded in the 1920s, prompted by widespread concern over maternal mortality (which at the time was high). The figures shown here are for deaths in public hospitals. The actual rate was probably higher – it is likely that doctors, sympathetic to a family’s grief and the shame of abortion, reported a different cause of death in some cases. Until 1952 the figures were only for the Pākehā population.
From the 1940s the use of antibiotics meant that many more women survived botched abortions. By the 1960s, maternal deaths due to septic abortion had dropped to a handful.
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Source: 'Annual Reports, Department of Health', Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (H-31), 1927–1970