Catholic bishops in New Zealand are urging the nation’s government to ease the stress on young families, saying financial strains have increased abortions in the country.

Abortion became easier to obtain after the Abortion Legislation Act was made law in 2020.

The number of abortions in New Zealand peaked at 18,511 in 2003 before falling steadily to 12,823 in 2016. Although this number rose slowly after that year, it jumped to 14,164 in 2022.

The bishops’ conference noted the number of abortions for each 1,000 known pregnancies has risen to 193 from a low of 177 in 2016.

“We know that we are living in a time of increased financial constraints and that this only adds to the stress on families,” said Bishop of Auckland Stephen Lowe, the president of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference.

“We urge the new Government to keep the well-being of young parents and families to the fore in their policies, and we urge all Catholics to ensure that our faith communities are places of non-judgmental, welcoming and generous love, compassion and care,” he said.

In their annual report, the bishops conference said there is an obligation and responsibility to creating an environment within families and society where pregnant mothers and their partners are supported and children are made welcome.

“The serious underlying societal issues that can become key factors in shaping an abortion trajectory include poverty, lack of community support, lack of employer support, lack of state support, prejudice and/or lack of knowledge about disabilities and coercion from a partner, family or friends,” the report said.

The bishops conference noted that New Zealand’s Director-General of Health, Dr. Diana Sarfati, links the 2022 increase in abortions to the doubling of the “abortion workforce,” more facilities providing abortion services, increased accessibility through abortion services by health workers, and new phone and online services for “early medical abortion,” in which women can collect an abortion pill from a pharmacy to take at home.

“The annual report [by Sarfati] applauds the fact that the increased numbers reflect improved accessibility and equity of access to abortion throughout New Zealand,” Lowe said.

“However, those who work … providing pregnancy support services know that for many women, the decision will have been the result of a choice made under significant duress or constraints, including financial constraints. This represents a tragedy on multiple fronts because every pregnancy involves the lives of at least two adults as well as the newly conceived child,” the bishop said.

In October – the month of New Zealand’s national elections – the Catholic bishops republished an expanded teaching document “Te Kahu o te Ora: A Consistent Ethic of Life.” In it, they say “the unborn child is clearly one of the most vulnerable, innocent, and defenseless of all human beings. This imposes a significant moral obligation on us all.”

The election resulted in the governing Labour Party losing power in October’s national election, and a conservative coalition – made up of the National Party, Act Party, and New Zealand First – took power in November after 6 weeks of negotiations.

The new prime minister is Christopher Luxon of the National Party, who has said he is personally pro-life. However, in the buildup to the vote, he said changing the country’s abortion laws is “not what New Zealanders are interested in right now.” He also said he would resign as prime minister if access to abortion was restricted in any way.

Lowe said members of the Church need to back up the Christian teaching on life with action.

“We need to remember that our obligations and responsibilities extend to creating an environment within families and society where pregnant mothers and their partners are supported and children are made welcome,” the bishop said.

“In cases where continuing a pregnancy poses challenges for those most directly involved, it is vitally important that people do not see abortion as the only or most desirable possibility,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Right to Life New Zealand issued a statement on Dec. 14 calling upon the new government to reverse the previous Labour government’s policy on abortion, claiming it encourages doctors and nurses to enter the abortion workforce under the pretext that it is a health service.

“Right to Life is alarmed at the increased number of doctors and nurses who were prepared to participate in the murder of innocent unborn children, the wounding of their mothers, who are also the victims of abortion,” said Ken Orr, spokesperson for Right to Life New Zealand.

He said the people of the country should demand that health professionals uphold their medical practice based on the Hippocratic oath to do no harm.

“If we are silent and accept the killing of the unborn patient as a health service, then we will face increased pressure from the advocates of the culture of death, for the killing of born patients, who will fall victim to the End of Life Choice Act,” Orr said.

Lowe said the Church will continue to advocate for the legal right to life of all unborn children who have no voice themselves.

“It is up to all of us to lobby to make our country a safer place for every unborn child, and that must flow through to the care and support we offer to families after birth,” he said.

“Abortion is abusive, causing long term harm to the mother, which is almost never addressed. It also causes damage to the father of the child, something also often not addressed, and, of course, it ends the life of a human being,” the bishop added.