Law Commission consulting on abortion law reform

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The Law Commission is asking for views on Aotearoa New Zealand's abortion laws, as it develops advice to government.

Your views can be provided until 18 May 2018.

In February 2018, the Minister of Justice Andrew Little advised that the Government is considering how best to ensure New Zealand's abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue. Mr Little asked the Law Commission to provide a briefing on what alternative approaches could be taken in the legal framework to align with a health approach.

The Law Commission states "Specifically, the Government has asked us to review the criminal aspects of abortion law, the grounds for abortion and the process for receiving abortion services." The website provides brief background information on these areas of abortion law.

You can submit feedback on the website, by email to alr@lawcom.govt.nz or in writing.

For more information see the Law Commission's Frequently Asked Questions about the Abortion Law Reform.

In the 2017 election campaign, Jacinda Ardern stated she did not believe abortion should be in the Crimes Act.

Current law in New Zealand

The Law Commission summarises:

"If the abortion is performed during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the person performing the abortion must believe:

  • continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the physical or mental health of the woman; or
  • there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would be 'so physically or mentally abnormal as to be seriously handicapped'; or
  • the pregnancy is the result of incest or sexual intercourse with a dependent family member; or
  • the woman is 'severely subnormal'.

When determining whether continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health, the person performing the abortion may take into account the age of the woman and whether the pregnancy is the result of sexual violation. However, these are factors to be considered. They are not grounds for abortion on their own.

If the abortion is performed after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, the grounds are much narrower. The person performing the abortion must believe the abortion is necessary:

  •     to save the life of the woman; or
  •    to prevent 'serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health'.

Before a doctor can perform an abortion, the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 requires two certifying consultants to issue a certificate that they believe any of the grounds in section 187A apply."

Violence against women and reproductive health and justice

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

Currently in New Zealand, a pregnancy being the result of sexual violence is a factor that "may be taken into account " in determining whether doctors believe continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the woman's physical or mental health. It is not grounds for abortion on its own.

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

Women's experience of violence and sexual and reproductive coercion can impact on pregnancy intendedness. One study reported that 28% of women who had experienced violence during pregnancy "wanted to be pregnant then", compared with 55% of women who had not experienced violence during pregnancy. Women who experienced IPV also reported that their male partners were less likely to want the pregnancy (see Fanslow, 2017).

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 (see Fanslow, 2017).

For further information search the NZFVC library under reproductive coercion or see the following:

Intimate partner violence and women's reproductive health (Fanslow, 2017)

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

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

Related resources

See our previous stories for information about the Ministry of Health updated guidelines on violence for health workers (2016) and resources from the World Health Organization (2017).

NZ Family Planning has made a number of courses available online.

Related news

The Law Commission is also currently consulting on the Evidence Act 2006.

Selected media

Having an abortion meant not bringing a child into violence, Opinion, Stuff, 29.05.2018

Commissioning changes, Radio NZ, 22.04.2018

Trust Women to Make Their Own Decision About Abortion, Media release, New Zealand Family Planning, 15.03.2018

Little asks Law Commission to look at abortion law, Radio NZ, 27.02.2018

ALRANZ Welcomes Law Commission Review, Media release, 27.02.2018

Abortion watchdog wants changes to the law but says nobody is listening, Stuff, 15.02.2018

Abortion law 'offensive' says chair of committee charged with governing it video, Stuff, 16.03.2017

Abortion law needs to be updated - Andrew Little, NZ Herald, 15.03.2018

Jacinda Ardern committed to abortion law reform, but National's leadership candidates all object, TVNZ, 15.02.2018

ALRANZ: Labour Party Supports Decriminalisation of Abortion, Scoop, 05.09.2017

Ardern: Abortion 'shouldn't be in the crimes act', TVNZ, 04.09.2017