Submissions open on abortion law reform bill

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Submissions are open on the bill to reform abortion law. This includes changes to the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.

The deadline to make a submission is 19 September 2019.

The omnibus Abortion Legislation Bill would decriminalise abortion, better align the regulation of abortion services with other health services, and modernise the legal framework for abortion.

Justice Minister Andrew Little outlined key aspects of the bill:

    • "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, require the heath practitioner to reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health, and well-being
    • ensure that health practitioners 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
    • ensure that a woman can self-refer to an abortion service provider
    • enable a regulation-making power to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities, on a case-by-case basis
    • ensure that 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
    • retain the criminal offence for unqualified people who attempt to procure an abortion on a pregnant woman or supply the means for procuring an abortion
    • retain the criminal offence of killing an unborn child for any person who causes harm to a pregnant woman and in doing so causes the death of a fetus"
Andrew Little said:

“Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change. 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."

The transcript of the bill's First Reading in Parliament is available on Hansard.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about her commitment to removing abortion from the Crimes Act and the bill's provision to require health practitioner authorisation after 20 weeks.

Jackie Edmond, Chief Executive of NZ Family Planning noted "The proposed approach isn’t what the broader health community, including Family Planning, recommended and is really a missed opportunity to put all women front and centre of the process." Family Planning and others supported the Law Commission's Model A, which had no statutory test for abortions. However Jackie Edmond said "It is positive that the government is moving forward with reforming our abortion laws and offering a framework that is an improvement to the laws we currently have."

NZ Family Planning has produced an Abortion Law Reform information sheet providing answers to common questions about the reform. Also see these media releases from Family Planning:

The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) has provided an analysis of the bill.

Background information

In 2018, the Government asked the Law Commission to examine abortion law and provide advice on options for reform. The Law Commission's process included consultation with stakeholders and the public. The Law Commission submitted a briefing paper outlining options. See our previous news article about the briefing paper and responses to the Law Commission's work.

Related research

There are multiple links between intimate partner violence, sexual violence and reproductive health and justice.

Reproductive coercion is a form of intimate partner violence. It includes behaviours that interfere with or control people's choices about accessing contraception, reproductive health and pregnancy (e.g. trying to get a person pregnant, or control a person's decision-making around a pregnancy).

Intimate partner violence and women's reproductive health (Fanslow, 2017).
This review article notes women's experience of violence and sexual and reproductive coercion impacts on pregnancy intendedness. It also notes women who have experienced IPV are more likely to terminate a pregnancy, with one study reporting a 2.5 times increased likelihood of termination of pregnancy.

The National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges published a report, Reproductive coercion in Aotearoa New Zealand (2018).
This research found "a significant number of these research participants had experienced controlled access to contraceptives, birth control sabotage and pregnancy pressure from an intimate partner. Over one third of participants had experienced a partner trying to prevent them accessing an abortion, and just over one quarter had experienced a partner attempting to pressure them into terminating a pregnancy. Just under one third had also experienced a partner deliberately trying to cause them to miscarry, for example by using physical violence." (p.4)

See also:

Hidden forces: Shining a light on reproductive coercion - Marie Stopes Australia white paper (2018)

Reproductive Justice & Violence Against Women: Understanding the Intersections, VAWnet special collection (2017)

Reproductive coercion Clearinghouse Connector - Women's Health Victoria list of articles (2015)

For further information search the NZFVC library under reproductive coercion

Here’s why there should be no gestational limits for abortion, The Conversation, 12.08.2019

Abortion law reform just leapt its first hurdle. Here’s what the MPs said, Spinoff, 09.08.2019

Abortion bill: What's actually changing and when, Stuff, 08.08.2019

No test for abortion up to 20 weeks, Newsroom, 05.08.2019

Cheat sheet: What the draft Abortion Law Reform Bill means for abortion rights, The Spinoff, 05.08.2019

Sweeping abortion law changes: Woman's right to choose until 20 weeks, NZ Herald, 05.08.2019