Abortion law will be modernised so it is treated as a health issue rather than a crime, Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced.
“Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change,” says 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.”
The proposals follow on from the Law Commission’s report Alternative Approaches to Abortion Law, which gave 3 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 Andrew.
“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.”
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.
A Bill 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, 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.
Family Planning says law reform is good news/bad news
The proposed new abortion framework released today by the government is a good news/bad news story, says Family Planning.
While the good news is that the Government has committed to reforming abortion law, the bad news is the missed chance to make New Zealand a country with a legal framework based on human rights and best clinical practice.
"It’s 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," says Jackie Edmond, Chief Executive of Family Planning.
"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."
Health experts agreed that the Law Commission’s model A, where a women and her health practitioner make the decision about the pregnancy, was the most appropriate framework for the provision of abortion services.
They also agreed there is no need for arbitrary legal requirements.
Still, Family Planning is pleased that the proposed model will remove abortion from the Crimes Act and allow 99 per cent of women seeking an abortion to make their own decision in consultation with a health provider.
"We have been waiting a very long time for a government to take action to modernise our laws. We’ve gone through a rigorous Law Commission review which has moved us a long way forward.
“Now, we support the Government and the Select Committee process and the time frame for change.”
Under the proposed new laws, 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.
"It’s our hope that this legislative process can happen in a way that is non-judgemental, compassionate and respectful and that we remember this is people’s lives we are talking about. We owe it to the people who have made and who will make the decision to have an abortion to have these conversations respectfully."
The three models for reform identified by the Law Commission:
Model A: A woman consults with her health practitioner and there is no legal test.
Model B: There are few changes under this model. The health practitioner still uses a legal test to approve an abortion for a woman, who has to prove she meets the grounds.
Model C: A woman consults with her health practitioner and there is no legal test unless the pregnancy is beyond 22 weeks.