Newsroom reported yesterday:
Andrew Little surprised observers today when he revealed that a draft referral on reforming New Zealand’s abortion law had been circulated to New Zealand First and the Greens. Little said today that he received a letter from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the coalition was formed directing him to begin the process of reforming the law. Once the two parties give feedback, the referral will be sent to the Law Commission to make a recommendation.
Abortion in New Zealand is a crime under the Crimes Act, although the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act of 1977 allows a woman to have an abortion if she meets certain criteria and proves her need to two physicians.
Critics argue that the current legislation is out of date, inequitable, and the cause of unnecessary distress.
So far there has been little detail from the Government on what the reformed law would look like or when the legislation would be introduced.
During the election campaign, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed her personal view that should abortion be taken out of the Crimes Act so it is likely that this will form some part of the reform.
On Tuesday, Andrew Little refused to give much detail on what reform might look like, but suggested it might be broader than taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.
“There are more issues than just what’s in the Crimes Act … it’s also the hurdles that have been put in the way of women who are faced with making that decision,” he said.
The vote would be a conscience vote, meaning MPs would be given the ability to vote freely without following a party line. Reform is likely to be supported by the Prime Minister, liberal members of her party and the Green Party.
Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn:
During the election campaign, Jacinda Ardern promised that if elected she would decriminalise abortion. Now Labour are taking the first step towards that, with a review by the Law Commission
Justice Minister Andrew Little intends to ask the Law Commission to update the archaic law on abortion, including looking at decriminalising it.
This morning, the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) told Parliament that the 41-year-old law was impractical and made the difficult lives of women seeking abortion even more difficult.
The committee added that it had been years since it had seen any meaningful engagement from Parliament, including over three years since a minister had met with its members.
A review by the Law Commssion is a good idea – it will formally document how badly the current archaic law works, while examining more modern laws from overseas (e.g. Victoria). And it should give us decent draft legislation for any change.
The question is whether it will pass. In order to get enough votes, any bill will need substantial support from National, but their current leadership contest shows that even “liberals” like Amy Adams are grovelling to the Christian right and defending the status quo. That might not last – there’s nothing as two-faced as a politician – but its a bad sign. There’s also a real danger of wrecking amendments such as mandatory scolding “counselling” or parental consent requirements, which may undermine the right to abortion in practice. So we may end up with a great proposed law, which we can’t pass due to too many National misogynists in Parliament. Though given the expected length of time for a review, it’ll probably be the next Parliament which has to deal with this anyway, so we’ll at least get a chance to fix that first.
From the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) Change the Law pages, talking about the The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 in the context of abortion being also in the Crimes Act 1961:
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion abortion regulations are more about controlling women’s fertility than about making health care safe. It becomes even more difficult if you read the Report of the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion.
In it, you see men of the 1970s trying to cater for a system that reduces the number of women dying of sepsis in unsafe, illegal abortions, while still forcing most women to give birth in most cases whether they like it or not.
The Commission focused on the reason for the abortion. A woman being “severely sub-normal” in the eyes of the law was a good reason. A woman being raped was not a good enough reason, because the Commission assumed women would just lie to get abortions.
ALRANZ’s 16 Reasons to Change the Law