Both sides of the abortion debate met on Parliament’s front lawn today in an orderly demonstration of free speech.
The Voice for Life pro-life group laid out 13,285 pairs of baby booties on the lawn to represent the number of foetuses aborted in 2017.
Voice for Life national president Jacqui de Ruiter said the group decided to create the graphic display following the release of the latest abortion figures to illustrate how many potential lives were lost through abortion.
“New Zealanders and women deserve better than abortion – 13,285 lost to the violence of abortion – there’s got to better be a better way,” she said.
“So many women have said afterwards, ‘If I would have known what I was really doing, I wouldn’t have done it.’
“It’s not the simple process people think it is.”
Abortion Rights Aotearoa national president Terry Bellamak, who organised a counter-protest on the other side of the lawn, said it was to show solidarity with those who wanted abortion care.
“This booties protest … is kind of about shaming and guilting people who have had abortions and we think that’s wrong.
“Abortion stigma has stopped people from accessing abortion, it’s stopped people from talking about it, it’s created shame and distress in the minds of people who have had abortions.
“Abortion is healthcare. We trust people to choose for themselves to decide whether they need abortion care,” Bellamak said.
Reproductive health pioneer Dame Margaret Sparrow was among those in the pro-choice camp. Now in her 80s, Sparrow said she had been an advocate for safe, legal abortion for more than four decades.
“This is another opportunity to make sure that this generation carry on with the fight for safe, legal abortion.
“Back in 1977 I think I remember thinking, ‘I guess when I’m 90 I’ll still be coming up these steps at Parliament’, and here I am.”
The Government has asked the Law Commission for options around treating abortion in New Zealand as a health issue and taking it out of the Crimes Act.
Minister of Justice Andrew Little has asked the commission to provide advice on what alternative approaches could be taken in the legal framework to align with a health approach.
The commission is due to provide its advice by October.
The decision could come down to a conscience vote in Parliament and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she hopes a large number of MPs will support the work being done by the Law Commission on the issue.
She has said it was something she wanted dealt with in her Government’s first term.
“It’s only right that we have the Law Commission undertake this work because, as I’ve said, my personal view is that in 2018, it should no longer be a part of our Crimes Act regardless of whether or not women can access it.”
National leader Simon Bridges believes there is no need to change the laws.
“I have not seen a case for change in this area, overall I think the regime we have for abortions is working well,” he said in May.
“What we want to see is abortions being rare, safe and legal. I think we do see that in New Zealand.”
Abortions are currently permitted as a medical procedure when the woman faces serious physical or mental harm as a result of carrying the child to term and where two certifying consultants agree.