Last week, New Zealand had its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), where New Zealand’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council and judged against international human rights treaties and standards. During the review, a number of UN member states (countries) recommended that New Zealand remove abortion from the Crimes Act and address abortion as a health issue. Recommendations went further by asking the New Zealand government to “take a human rights-based approach by implementing Model ‘A’” as proposed by the recent Law Commission’s report on new approaches to abortion. This is the first time that New Zealand has received recommendations related to abortion through the UPR process.

Te Whāriki Takapou Chief Executive Dr. Alison Green says the recommendations are a timely reminder, as the New Zealand Government considers the Law Commission proposals, that our current abortion law is inconsistent with human rights treaties and international standards.

“These new UPR recommendations should give further confidence to our MPs as they consider abortion legislation for New Zealand. Abortion is not a crime, it is a human right. For Māori, the right to an abortion also comes from Treaty of Waitangi guarantees for self-determination and equitable health outcomes.”

Family Planning Chief Executive Jackie Edmond agrees that this is the right time for law reform.

“By adopting model A, which trusts pregnant women, in consultation with their health providers, to make their own health decisions, we’d move from having an abortion law which is out-of-date and out-of-step with other countries that have modernised their abortion laws, like Australia, to one which puts us as leaders in women’s rights and women’s reproductive health care.”

However, Ken Orr from Right to Life argues that the UN Human Rights Council is not representative of the General Assembly, which has consistently rejected all moves to declare that abortion is a human right. He also says, contrary to the Law Commission’s claims, New Zealand’s abortion laws are not in breach of the UN Convention for the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women, which New Zealand signed in 1980.

“It is the wish of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government to decriminalise abortion. Right to Life requests that the government upholds the Crimes Act that recognises that the killing of the unborn child is violence against both the mother and her innocent and defenceless child. It should also reject the pressure being exerted by this anti-life UN Commission.”

Orr says that as there is no evidence to substantiate claims that abortion is no longer a crime, the Government should cease their plans to present a bill to Parliament to decriminalise abortion.

The UPR report also made recommendations urging New Zealand to work harder to address our high rates of gender-based violence. Between now and the adoption of the final reports of the UPR in June 2019, the New Zealand Government will have to indicate their final decisions on the recommendations they have received.

A recorded video of the UPR review of New Zealand can be found here.

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