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Take abortion out of the Crimes Act

Written By: - Date published: 6:10 am, December 14th, 2017 - 68 comments
Categories: abortion, feminism, health, human rights - Tags: ,

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On 16 December 1977, the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act received assent. Its main purpose was to grudgingly permit abortions, but only in some circumstances. Forty years on, abortion remains a crime in New Zealand.

The effect of this outdated law is that people wanting to end their pregnancies must get two doctors to sign off on their choice, and say that continuing their pregnancy would cause ‘serious danger to [their] physical or mental health’.This means they often have to lie about their mental health to get the health care they need. Ninety eight percent of abortions are ‘allowed’ on the mental health grounds.

We believe it’s time for a change. The decision to have an abortion should stay between the person and their GP. The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act must be reformed.

68 comments on “Take abortion out of the Crimes Act ”

  1. JanM 1

    In view of the fact that the Green Party endorses the right of women to make their own decisions, does anyone know if they have plans afoot to introduce a bill in parliament to this effect?

  2. D'Esterre 2

    “The decision to have an abortion should stay between the person and their GP.”
    I wholeheartedly agree. If a woman wants to have an abortion, it is her business. Nobody else’s.
    Mention of abortion needs to be eliminated from the Crimes Act.

    • garibaldi 2.1

      Agree D’E ,with the proviso that one would be unwise to have an RC doctor. Religion should have no part in interfering in a woman’s life.

      • D'Esterre 2.1.1

        Garibaldi: “with the proviso that one would be unwise to have an RC doctor. Religion should have no part in interfering in a woman’s life.”

        You’re dead right. Women are well-advised to find another GP.

        Anent the issue of contraception – of which abortion is a fundamental part – RC doctors are often tripped up by the doctrine of double effect.

        • Andy 2.1.1.1

          Abortion is not a part of contraception

          • D'Esterre 2.1.1.1.1

            Andy: “Abortion is not a part of contraception”

            Yes. It is.

            • Andy 2.1.1.1.1.1

              The term “contraception” comes from the conjuction of the words “contra” and “conception”

              i.e preventing conception

              Abortion assumes that conception has already taken place, so by definition isn’t contraception

              Do you have any other meanings?

              • D'Esterre

                Andy: “Abortion assumes that conception has already taken place, so by definition isn’t contraception”

                All methods of contraception (aside from barrier methods, such as condoms and the diaphragm) have the potential to be abortifacient. The Catholic Church therefore forbids their use by Catholics. Of course the Church also forbids the use of abortion. And barrier methods as well, in case you were wondering.

  3. SPC 3

    There are two parts to this.

    The government should remove this from the Crimes Act, but otherwise leave the regulatory regime intact.

    A private members bill proposing changes to the regulatory regime should proceed separately (and possibly go to referendum for endorsement).

    • D'Esterre 3.1

      SPC: “The government should remove this from the Crimes Act, but otherwise leave the regulatory regime intact.”

      The proper course of action for the government is to remove mention of abortion from the Crimes Act, and to repeal the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.

      • SPC 3.1.1

        The politically smart move is to move where there is consensus, and that will also involve a few minor changes to the 1977 legislation (to take out references to the Crimes Act – once sans 182-187).

        Repeal would involve replacement, and there would be contention over that – best left to a private members bill.

        Whether that is proper, just etc is another matter. And in that there is a diversity of opinion.

        • D'Esterre 3.1.1.1

          SPC: “Repeal would involve replacement….”

          There is no need for replacement legislation. Existing legislation covering health practitioners’ competence in respect of quality assurance and safety is all that is needed.

          Abortion is a gynaecological procedure; so is hysterectomy, and we don’t have legislation specifically sanctioning it.

          • SPC 3.1.1.1.1

            So people would shop around until they found a medical professional prepared to perform the service required?

            • weka 3.1.1.1.1.1

              No, the state should ensure that every hospital in NZ has an abortion clinic staffed by competent and willing staff. And they should put extra services in place for women that don’t live in a major centre e.g. ease of access via travel and accommodation grants, childcare etc.

              • SPC

                Over 90% of them are performed within 12 weeks, only about 1% after 16 weeks.

                I just do not see the problem with some regulation of access by duration of pregnancy) unless there is exemption for specific medical cause.

                Staffing the service in that environment would not be a problem.

                • D'Esterre

                  SPC: “I just do not see the problem with some regulation of access by duration of pregnancy) unless there is exemption for specific medical cause. ”

                  Of course it is a problem. Duration of gestation at abortion isn’t my business. Or anyone else’s but that of the pregnant woman. There should be no regulation of access: it is not any of us who must carry a fetus to term.

                  • SPC

                    No regulation of access … some medical professionals including those who work in the area now might not work in it on those terms.

            • D'Esterre 3.1.1.1.1.2

              SPC: “So people would shop around until they found a medical professional prepared to perform the service required?”

              It isn’t necessary to do this if a hysterectomy is indicated. The correct state of affairs would be that women have the same access to abortion services as to other gynaecological services.

              • SPC

                It is not a service all medical professionals are willing to provide.

                And the numbers prepared to work in this area might decline for an on demand service with no time limits.

                • D'Esterre

                  SPC: “And the numbers prepared to work in this area might decline for an on demand service with no time limits.”

                  This argument leans heavily on instrumental reasons to reject change to the abortion laws.

                  On the other hand, I and others are interested in intrinsic reasons to push for change.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2

          The politically smart move is to move where there is consensus…

          The correct move would be to have a referendum on it:

          The level of support for abortion being legal in each situation is:
          1. Pregnant woman likely to die 77%
          2. Foetus has no chance of survival 76%
          3. Pregnant woman likely to be permanently harmed 76%
          4. Pregnancy is a result of rape 73%
          5.Pregnancy is a result of birth control failure 55%
          6. Pregnant mother can’t afford to have another child 54%
          7. Pregnant woman doesn’t want to be a mother 51%

          If the results of this poll holds through a referendum then abortion would be legal as it should be. We have consensus. It’s the politicians that are the problem.

          It’s time for the government to recognise that we’re a democracy and not a dictatorship.

          • SPC 3.1.1.2.1

            It’s already legal. This is not the issue.

            Deleting 182-187 of the Crimes Act, and references to it in the 1977 legislation can/should be removed without reference to a referendum.

            Beyond that is the process for access to and constraints
            on access to specific services (somewhat unique in being accessed within a quick time period).

            A private members bill can focus on a revision of the 1977 legislation and a positive referendum result bring it into effect.

            • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2.1.1

              It’s already legal. This is not the issue.

              If it was legal it wouldn’t be in the crimes act. So, yes, that is the issue.

              And WTH does a government think to limit access to health services that a portion of the population has access to? Why does it think it has that right?

              Or, to put that another way, why are they removing rights from a section of the population?

              • SPC

                It’s legal in the 1977 process form, it remains more generally illegal in the Crimes Act (182-187), as it was before 1977. Which makes it moot.

                I would imagine late term abortion is not a procedure that is routine/safe. And allowing it, would undermine confidence of delivery, as there would be no guarantee it could be performed when sought.

                • It’s legal in the 1977 process form

                  It’s legal if women declare that they’re mad otherwise it’s illegal and a crime.

                  This is not an acceptable or just position for law to be in. Law should never take people’s right away from them.

                  • SPC

                    No they do not.

                    Whether they should have to claim that they would have some difficulty dealing with an unwanted pregnancy to access a medical procedure is a matter for reform of the 1977 legislation.

                    As is the issue of duration of on demand access to this where there is no threat to the woman’s well-being.

                    That leaves the issue of whether legislative change is held up by any requirement for public mandate via a referendum.

                    • As is the issue of duration of on demand access to this where there is no threat to the woman’s well-being.

                      That’s only an issue because some people think that they must control others by taking away their personal freedom.

                • D'Esterre

                  SPC: “It’s legal in the 1977 process form, it remains more generally illegal in the Crimes Act (182-187)…”

                  It’s illegal-but-with-loopholes. Said loopholes are in the CSA. This is an invidious state of affairs. It always has been, and it falls far short of what campaigners wanted in the 1970s.
                  Consider the legal status of vasectomy, and the regulations crimping men’s access to it. Can’t think of any? That’s because there aren’t any. Yet they’re commensurate procedures, given that both are part of the armoury of contraception.

          • weka 3.1.1.2.2

            The level of support for abortion being legal in each situation is:
            1. Pregnant woman likely to die 77%
            2. Foetus has no chance of survival 76%
            3. Pregnant woman likely to be permanently harmed 76%
            4. Pregnancy is a result of rape 73%
            5.Pregnancy is a result of birth control failure 55%
            6. Pregnant mother can’t afford to have another child 54%
            7. Pregnant woman doesn’t want to be a mother 51%

            That’s a case against a referendum. Low 50s is risky.

            • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2.2.1

              The average is well above 50%.

              • SPC

                Allowing abortion on only the first 4 grounds would end most abortions in New Zealand.

                • [Citation Needed]

                  And why wouldn’t you allow abortion on the other three?

                  5. The woman obviously didn’t want to get pregnant
                  6. Wouldn’t having an abortion in this case be personal responsibility?
                  7. Is probably related to 5

                  • weka

                    We might end up with a referendum that is badly worded, or includes only some of the options. What you or I want probably won’t come into it.

            • D'Esterre 3.1.1.2.2.2

              Weka: “That’s a case against a referendum.”

              I’m not a fan of the referendum approach. We elect pollies to represent us; they ought to act like grownups and do what they’re elected to do. If surveys show majority support for the legalisation of abortion, ergo, pollies must take heed of that, and make it happen.

              • We elect pollies to represent us; they ought to act like grownups and do what they’re elected to do.

                The former is the hypothesis but they almost never do the latter.

                If surveys show majority support for the legalisation of abortion, ergo, pollies must take heed of that, and make it happen.

                Same as the previous government took heed and didn’t sell off our assets…

                Wait, no, that didn’t happen.

                On the other hand, if it had been a government initiated referendum they would have had to act on the result.

    • weka 3.2

      if it was a referendum that only women could vote in, sure.

      • Rosemary McDonald 3.2.1

        Finally!

        In fact…only persons who are now, or have been in the past, capable of pregnancy should be allowed to discuss this issue.

        So, if you haven’t got, or had at some stage a womb…butt out.

        Its really none of your concern.

        • Lara 3.2.1.1

          “Finally!

          In fact…only persons who are now, or have been in the past, capable of pregnancy should be allowed to discuss this issue.

          So, if you haven’t got, or had at some stage a womb…butt out.

          Its really none of your concern.”

          I totally and completely agree. And that includes people with wombs who are infertile. Their infertility is not an excuse to force pregnancy on anyone else.

          I have always felt that there is something so wrong about people who have never had nor will ever have the ability to get pregnant (most men) discussing abortion and having the ability to pass laws about it and debating whether or not it should be allowed.

        • Hornet 3.2.1.2

          This is a reasoned response to your point. Much better than I could have written.

          http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2014/11/should-men-be-allowed-to-discuss-abortion/

          • D'Esterre 3.2.1.2.1

            Hornet: “This is a reasoned response to your point.”

            I’ve read that link, and a chunk of the comment thread.

            I didn’t find the author’s argument very convincing; nor, I notice, do some of those commenting,

            • Hornet 3.2.1.2.1.1

              It is, of course, a matter of opinion. I just wonder at the outcry if a man suggested excluding all women from a discussion on men’s health issues.

              • D'Esterre

                Hornet: “I just wonder at the outcry if a man suggested excluding all women from a discussion on men’s health issues.”

                I don’t subscribe to the view that men should be excluded from the discussion about abortion. However, since it is not men who must gestate a fetus, their views carry less weight than those of women.

                I’d add that when it comes to men’s health issues, men’s views must carry more weight than those of women. Though I can’t at present think of an issue affecting men’s health which is analogous to abortion.

                • Hornet

                  “However, since it is not men who must gestate a fetus, their views carry less weight than those of women.”

                  I respectfully disagree. Because we are discussing life, society has an interest in abortion, just as it has an interest in suicide. The biological fact that a woman carries a baby is no reason to deny other human beings a say in whether or not that baby lives or dies.

                  • Because we are discussing life, society has an interest in abortion, just as it has an interest in suicide.

                    It has an interest from the PoV of the health of society. Oppression, leaving abortion as a crime, is detrimental to the health of society.

                    The biological fact that a woman carries a baby is no reason to deny other human beings a say in whether or not that baby lives or dies.

                    1. Actually, it is.
                    2. It’s not actually a baby. It’s a foetus.

                    • D'Esterre

                      Draco T Bastard: “1. Actually, it is.
                      2. It’s not actually a baby. It’s a foetus.”

                      Exactly. Right on both counts.

                      Some men’s (and some women’s) desire to have a say over whether another woman carries a fetus to term likely reflects a perspective formed by the status quo.

                      Because men (disproportionately, but not exclusively) have traditionally called the shots on the shape of health services for women – including abortion – they struggle to let go of the belief that they can continue to have a casting vote, as it were, over the continuation or abortion of a pregnancy.

                      The other major factor driving opposition to abortion is that great patriarchy, organised religion. We all know what the Catholic church, for instance, thinks of contraception, including abortion. But NZ is a secular society; our legal system ought to reflect that secularism. Women who aren’t religious should not be forced to abide by abortion laws which are essentially religious in their underpinnings.

                    • Hornet

                      “It has an interest from the PoV of the health of society. Oppression, leaving abortion as a crime, is detrimental to the health of society.”
                      Having the taking of life as a crime is not oppression.

                      “2. It’s not actually a baby. It’s a foetus.”
                      A foetus is a prenatal human. A foetus is a living, functioning organism. It may suit your world view to call it a ‘foetus’, but scientifically it makes no difference.

      • JanM 3.2.2

        I think that’s a good idea – has the Green Party any plans do you know?

      • Psycho Milt 3.2.3

        You’d think it would be a no-brainer, but I doubt very much that’s the kind of referendum NZF has in mind.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.2.4

        +1

        Edit: and then minus 100 for endorsing plebiscites (I speak as a pleb).

  4. greywarshark 4

    SPC
    That sounds as if it would be a wise and considered way of handling this delicate issue.

  5. Jum 5

    A woman has the right to vote on her own body, Anyone else is irrelevant.

    Referendums, if they must, should only involve women and girls. And, really, if a woman doesn’t want an abortion, she Doesn’t Have To Have An Abortion…

    If a male has helped make a woman pregnant, and she does not want that pregnancy, then public funding which protects all New Zealanders from unwanted results of anything should be upheld for abortion. Rape, an unwanted pregnancy by men, etc etc is relevant to a healthy public abortion right. If women still want that pregnancy, fine. If men didn’t want that pregnancy, why didn’t they take precautions? How weak are they if they have so little control and responsibility over their own virility?

    The Catholic church only decided in 19-something that it was a crime because they thought they were losing control of women, Marilyn French – The War Against Women.

    We only have to look at the present court case of an ex-policeman that thought he had the right to slaughter his missus to know that men still believe women are worth nothing.

    Shame on us all that we still allow this prejudice.

  6. Jum 6

    If men wanted that pregnancy to continue did they bother to get permission from the owner of the womb before sex? Nah, didn’t think so.

  7. adam 7

    On some level my thinking is why is the state even involved in this issue.

    Is this not an issue for each women has to make on a personal level. And that once the decision has been made, then the health system we all agree is best run collectively – should then support that decision.

    As a male the only choice you have, is to chose a partner (in a heteronormative relationship) who would, or would not have an abortion. A male should be adult enough to have that discussion and make that choice before they get into a relationship. Not force a women to bend to their will after the fact, one way, or another. It is a woman’s choice, pure and simple. Any other road includes force or manipulation of some sort, and that is not acceptable.

    • SPC 7.1

      The state is involved because it funds the service provided.

      Fully funded, within weeks of it being requested, makes it a unique service in the health system.

      The taxpayer funded health system is generally known for rationing out its coverage. Some people die on waiting lists … others cannot access drugs because Pharmac does not fund them, others wait years for quality of life enhancing procedures.

      • D'Esterre 7.1.1

        SPC: “The state is involved because it funds the service provided.”

        The state funds the entire health system, but it doesn’t set up hoops through which patients needing treatment must jump. Waitlists yes, but not 2 certifying consultants or questions about one’s state of mind.

  8. Matthew Whitehead 8

    Well, firstly, I think a lot of us dudes need to do a lot more listening before we butt into this conversation. I have to agree with the women further up the thread pointing out that putting this issue to referendum is essentially granting men a veto over women’s rights, and is just as offensive as the idea of putting queer rights to a referendum, effectively granting cis-straight people a veto. This should be decided by our representatives, and they should be primarily listening to the voices of women in making that decision. (or people who identify as men but could still have children…) I don’t have confidence in the Opposition to do that, although I expect at least two of the government parties would be on-board. Sadly the best compromise we’re likely to get is NZF agreeing to kick these kind of issues to voters because they’re infatuated with referenda.

    Secondly, I will make a quick case for leaving involuntary abortion in the Crimes Act. While there’s a good case for procuring an abortion for yourself, or providing one to a willing recipient as a medical practitioner both being practices that obviously shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act, inflicting an abortion on someone who doesn’t want one (eg. through dosing someone with abortifacient drugs without their knowledge, or assaulting them in a way that causes them to lose a baby) should still be a crime regardless of what reforms we enact to liberalise our abortion laws.

    That said, I imagine that’s absolutely not what most people are talking about when they say “remove abortion from the crimes act,” they’re referring to voluntary abortions, and they have a very good point there.

    I would also point out that if we pass David Seymour’s bill, you will have a referral right from doctors who refuse to provide assisted dying services, where they are compelled to mention the existence of a government agency that will provide a register of people who will provide you such a service. Right now, thanks to one Mary English, (yes, that English family) people wanting abortions don’t have any similar right. If we’re legislating on this issue, we should absolutely fix that, and implement a list of providers for abortions that people can refer to if their chosen doctor won’t help. (Presumably, you’d legislate that the Ministry for Women have to provide it)

    • D'Esterre 8.1

      Matthew Whitehead: “Secondly, I will make a quick case for leaving involuntary abortion in the Crimes Act. ”

      I don’t see this as being necessary. Existing legislation covers such situations.

      There are situations – serious intellectual disability, for instance – where guardians must make such decisions. They need to be legally free to do so.

      I wonder if your suggestion is underpinned by a perspective of abortion being a moral issue, though still justified in a range of circumstances.

      I don’t see abortion in those terms at all; any more than I do other forms of contraception. It’s a gynaecological issue, as are procedures such as hysterectomy, and treatment for ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis and fibroids. The point of abortion’s removal from the Crimes Act is – or ought to be – recognition that there’s no moral weight attached to it.

  9. Tanz 9

    Sigh. Yet more unmandated social engineering…

  10. D'Esterre 10

    Tanz: “Yet more unmandated social engineering…”

    What is?

  11. Tanz 11

    Just about everything Labour wants to do, is social engineering. It’s all about control.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 11.1

      🙄

    • D'Esterre 11.2

      Tanz: “It’s all about control.”

      With regard to abortion, the status quo is about control, by the state. Removing abortion from the Crimes Act, and repealing the 1977 Act, would remove control from the state and give to women, to whom it properly belongs.

  12. D'Esterre 12

    Hornet: “A foetus is a prenatal human. A foetus is a living, functioning organism. It may suit your world view to call it a ‘foetus’, but scientifically it makes no difference.”

    Biologically, there is in fact a difference. Unlike an infant, a fetus is unviable outside the uterus. Once a fetus has reached that stage of development at which it is potentially viable, it will be born and become an infant.

    Although in terms of the debate about abortion, it isn’t relevant, even though opponents of abortion rights tend to use it as a moral stick with which to beat women.

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