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.