The Law Commission late last week launched an Abortion Law Reform website and called for public input to assist in advising the government on how to update current legislation.
It follows the Justice Minister Andrew Little in February taking up Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s pre-election call for the law to be changed and for abortion to be decriminalised.
The Commission said it had been asked by Little to provide him with a briefing on alternative approaches so New Zealand’s abortion laws were consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.
At present under the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 it is unlawful for an abortion to be carried out unless it is authorised by two ‘certifying consultant’ doctors. To authorise an abortion these consultants must believe the situation meets one of the criteria under Section 187A of the Crimes Act 1961 that include that continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the physical or mental health of the woman or there was a substantial risk that the child would be ‘seriously handicapped’.
It is also an offence under the Act for a woman to unlawfully attempt to procure her own miscarriage, for example, by taking a drug.
Law Commissioner Belinda Clark said it wanted to hear what people thought about how New Zealand’s abortion laws could be made more health-centred.
Specifically, the Government has asked the commission to review the criminal aspects of abortion law, the grounds for abortion and the process for receiving abortion services.
The current law and process for abortion services are explained on the commission’s Abortion Law Reform website where the public can also share their views online or find contact details for submitting feedback by email or mail. Submissions close on May 18 2018.
The latest abortion statistics show that that 12,823 abortions were performed in 2016 – down from a peak of 18,511 in 2003.
The general abortion rate (abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years) was 13.5 per 1,000 women in 2016 which was the lowest rate in over 25 years.
The abortion rate for younger women has also fallen significantly in recent years. The abortion rate for women aged 20–24 years fell from a peak of 41 per 1,000 women in 2003 to 21 per 1,000 in 2016. The abortion rate for teenagers dropped from 26 per 1,000 to 9 per 1,000 over the same period.
The statistics, released by Statistics New Zealand in June last year, also showed that most abortions (64%) were a woman’s first abortion and 57 per cent were performed before the 10th week of the pregnancy.
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