Abortion law reform advocates are calling for the Government to “get the lead out” after what appears to be further delay to long-awaited legislation.
Justice Minister Andrew Little has been looking at potential changes to New Zealand’s four-decade-old abortion laws, including whether to take abortion out of the Crimes Act, since early last year.
But the Government has yet to publicly reply to Law Commission advice released in October or confirm what changes it plans to put up to a conscience vote in Parliament.
Last year, Little said he expected to have a Bill ready to go in early 2019, but it stalled in talks with NZ First.
In May, he said an announcement was weeks away, after a breakthrough.
It was still weeks away on Tuesday.
“Constructive discussions have been ongoing regarding abortion law reform and I’m pleased with where it’s at,” Little said in a statement.
“I expect to have an announcement to make in a matter of weeks.”
He earlier told TVNZ that NZ First had been “very helpful” during talks.
“It is about making sure we get it in shape where we can get the most votes and get it through Parliament,” he said.
“We are taking the time to get it right.”
Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand president Terry Bellamak said while the group was still hopeful and appreciated the Government was trying to get the policy over the line, there was concern the hold-up meant the proposals would be watered down from the recommendations.
“We might not get the comprehensive changes we need to not only make abortion legal, but also accessible,” she said.
“It’s really important this opportunity not be squandered.”
The delays were having a “real impact” on women, Bellamak said.
“Our message to the Government is: ‘Get the lead out’,” she said.
“The longer these laws are in place the more people are likely to get turned away or not have access to this care. There are people out in rural areas where the only doctor in town obstructs access to care.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a 2017 election debate said she didn’t think abortion should be in the Crimes Act, although reform didn’t appear in Labour policy.
New Zealand First, meanwhile, says it will support the bill through Cabinet and into the House, but was undecided whether it would lend support at the first reading.
“We want to know exactly what this legal provision is,” leader Winston Peters told Newstalk ZB on Tuesday.
Green Party abortion spokeswoman Jan Logie said changes were “still working their way through” but declined to comment on concerns about the delay.