Under the proposed new laws announced today by Justice Minister Andrew Little, abortion would be removed from the Crimes Act and overseen by the Ministry of Health. Under the proposed legislation, there would be a statutory test only for abortions over 20 weeks gestation. This means that women seeking an abortion for a pregnancy that had progressed to 20 weeks or more would require approval from a doctor that statutory grounds had been met for a legal abortion.

A Bill, which will have its first reading on Thursday will remove any statutory test on the health practitioner for a woman who is not more than 20 weeks pregnant. For a woman who is more than 20 weeks pregnant, the heath practitioner must reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health, and well-being.

Under the proposed legislation, health practitioners must advise women of the availability of counselling services if they are considering an abortion or have had an abortion (although counselling will not be mandatory) and ensure that a woman can self-refer to an abortion service provider. Practitioners who object to providing services on the grounds of conscience must inform the pregnant women about their objection, and that the woman can obtain the services elsewhere.

Further, there will be a regulation-making power to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities, on a case-by-case basis.

It will also remain a criminal offence for unqualified people who attempt to procure an abortion on a pregnant woman or supply the means for procuring an abortion. And it will remain a criminal offence for any person who causes harm to a pregnant woman and in doing so causes the death of a fetus.

“Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change,” said Andrew Little.

“This Bill will modernise the laws on abortion, by removing it from the Crimes Act and bringing the law into line with many other developed countries.”

“Safe abortion should be treated and regulated as a health issue; a woman has the right to choose what happens to her body,” Andrew Little said.

The proposals follow on from the Law Commission’s report Alternative Approaches to Abortion Law, which gave three options on what a health approach to abortion could look like.

“We want to improve access to services, and support the best health and wellbeing outcomes for women,” says Little.

“The safe systems and regulation that we need to do this are already in place through other health legislation and codes of professional practice within the medical profession. Oversight of abortion services would be transferred from the Abortion Supervisory Committee to the Ministry of Health.”

“The Bill has been carefully considered and we will be proposing that Parliament establish a special Select Committee to hear the public’s views. It is now a matter for Parliament and the public,” says Little.

The Bill will have its first reading on Thursday 8 August and will be treated as a conscience issue, meaning Members of Parliament can cast their votes independently at each stage of the Bill’s progression through the House.

Some sector groups are pleased to see reforms but have voiced disappointment that the changes aren’t bolder.
ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa is among those welcoming the announcement of the Government’s draft abortion law reform bill.
“Finally. We’ve only been waiting forty-odd years,” said Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ National president.
“The bill is a mixed bag. It’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s so much better than the status quo, we have to give the Government props for that. It’s a good start.”
Bellamak says the “good parts” are full decriminalisation; the ability to self-refer to an abortion service and bypass GPs; no special licence required over and above what other health clinics need; qualified health practitioners who are not doctors can provide the service.
“But why the 20 week limit? There are scans that happen around 20 weeks, and this gives people little time to consider those results.
“The safe areas seem to be reactive rather than proactive, because the regulations are made on a case by case basis. Does this mean providers and patients must suffer actual harassment, intimidation, or injury before they can apply to the Minister for a safe area? That might put health practitioners off providing abortion care.
Family Planning also has mixed feelings about the proposed new abortion framework. Whilepleased to see the Government has committed to reforming abortion law, they view the proposed framework as a missed opportunity.
“It is positive that the government is moving forward with reforming our abortion laws and offering a framework that is an improvement to the laws we currently have,” says Jackie Edmond, Chief Executive of Family Planning. “The proposed approach isn’t what the broader health community, including Family Planning, recommended and is really a missed opportunity to put all women front and centre of the process.”
Family Planning is pleased that the proposed model will remove abortion from the Crimes Act and allow 99% of women seeking an abortion to make their own decision in consultation with a health provider.
“We have been waiting a very long time for a government to take action to modernise our laws. We’ve gone through a rigorous Law Commission review which has moved us a long way forward. Now, we support the Government and the Select Committee process and the time frame for change,” Edmond says.
“It is our hope that this legislative process can happen in a way that is non-judgmental, compassionate and respectful and that we remember this is people’s lives we are talking about. We owe it to the people who have made and who will make the decision to have an abortion to have these conversations respectfully.”
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1 COMMENT

  1. Interesting from the title of the article I was expecting to hear the voice of those who want to protect the baby in this debate. However, nothing in the article at all about those who hold a different view on abortion. No questions about the changes such as; At what point then is a baby given the protection of the law? Is it when they have a heart beat (51/2 – 7 weeks), when they are born, when they can be born and live outside the womb unaided? If it is allowed after 20 weeks then will they inject something to kill the baby so it cannot be born alive? And how ironic that it is a crime to harm a mother and her unborn baby unless you are the mother herself. I have never heard a woman, even if she plans to abort the baby, say I am pregnant, I am having a fetus she always says I am having a baby. Will Andrew Little and politicians now play god and decide when a baby has protection and rights under the law?

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