By: Derek Cheng

Justice Minister Andrew Little wants the Law Commission to look into updating abortion laws. Photo / Getty Images

Justice Minister Andrew Little intends to ask the Law Commission to update the archaic law on abortion, including looking at decriminalising it.

This morning, the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC)​ told Parliament that the 41-year-old law was impractical and made the difficult lives of women seeking abortion even more difficult.

The committee added that it had been years since it had seen any meaningful engagement from Parliament, including over three years since a minister had met with its members.

Abortion is a polarising issue and, before the election, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it should not be a crime and she would change the law.

She wrote to Little, who is now consulting with the Greens and NZ First before formally asking the commission to look at the issue.

“The way the law operates is outdated and it is time to look at changing it,” Little said.

The commission’s work would be more than just looking at decriminalisation, he said.

“For a start, just looking at the language in the legislation, and looking at the steps the legislation requires women to go through in order to get an abortion. And then there is this aspect that effectively decriminalises it.

“The whole lot needs to be looked at.”

ASC chairwoman Professor Dame Linda Holloway told the justice committee this morning that updating the law was a greater priority than decriminalisation.

She said the number of abortions overall had declined, despite fears that more abortion clinics would lead to a rise in numbers. But there was a disproportionately high number of abortions in Auckland City, mainly because of a lack of service options in South Auckland.

Holloway said the committee had asked the Counties-Manukau DHB to set up a service, but to no avail.

“The travel challenges for someone in South Auckland, with multiple small children or an absent or unsupportive partner, to travel to Epsom Day and back again is a bigger challenge than for someone from Ruatoria to get to Gisborne, because Ngati Porou has got things set up responsibly.”

She said the current law had language – “first certifying consultant”, for example – that was so old it had become ambiguous.

“If you are a doctor who’s been recruited from overseas to New Zealand and is unfamiliar with this very difficult legislation, or a young medical student or doctor or lawyer, they worry about it.

“If in some way they misinterpret ambiguous legislation, they are putting their professional careers at risk.”

But the political attitude to abortion law was that it is broadly working and that her committee should basically go away, Holloway said.

Engagement through official channels had dried up, successive justice ministers had failed to meet with them, and the last minister to engage was Chester Borrows, whose stint as Associate Justice Minister ended in 2014.

Little hoped to have the Law Commission report back by the end of the year, and legislative change could follow that.

“When it comes to abortion, that is a conscience vote.”

Meanwhile National Party leadership contender Judith Collins said she saw no reason to change the current law.

“It is something that has worked for a long time. Some people say it’s too conservative. Some people think it’s too liberal.”

Asked about Ardern’s pre-election comments to change the law, Collins said: “They should not be surprised that what the Prime Minister said before the election is not necessarily her biggest priorities after the [election].”

Source: NZ Herald

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