Abortion is one step closer to becoming decriminalised in New Zealand after the Abortion Legislation Bill passed its second reading on the 3rd of March.
“Isn’t it already legal here?” is the question asked by a lot of people, and the answer is…well, yes and no. Currently, New Zealand law only allows abortion under 20 weeks when there is a serious danger to life, physical or mental health, incest or foetal abnormality.
Despite these restrictions, it’s estimated that 1 in 4 New Zealand women have had an abortion. This is because rough 98% of abortions utilize the loophole of “continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the mental health of the woman”, which must be established by at least 2 certifying doctors. There can be more if they refuse, which can lead to significant delays, especially for those in rural areas. On average, this delay is 25 days between the first appointment with a consultant and the abortion.
The Abortion Legislation Bill would allow people to self-refer to abortion services for pregnancies under 20 weeks, which currently accounts for more than 90% of abortions. For those after 20 weeks, the same statutory test would be needed, where a health practitioner believes an abortion is appropriate “having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing”. But this will only happen if the bill passes its third reading with the support of parliament, and there is a passionate movement within New Zealand opposing the bill.
There are Pro-life networks across the world and in New Zealand opposing abortion. Family First New Zealand, Voice For Life, Right to Life, many religious groups and conservative politicians, and ProLife NZ at universities across the country, are all seeking abortion restrictions. This student-led organisation has had a rocky relationship with the Auckland University Students’ Association, with motions to disaffiliate them happening multiple times over the last decade. They are still present on campus, as seen with their O-Week stalls this year. ProLife Auckland’s goal is informed discussion with students, and the promotion of their “vision for a world where all human life is respected and no woman must choose abortion”, where they see abortion as a human rights violation.
ProLife New Zealand strongly opposes the proposed Abortion Law Reform, seeing it as “the introduction of an extreme abortion law”. On the other hand, “Our current abortion laws – unchanged since 1977 – are out of date and not fit for purpose” was the statement made in an open letter signed by many New Zealand health and women’s organisations, including Family Planning, NZ College of Midwives, Women’s Refuge, UNICEF NZ, and the Mental Health Foundation of NZ.
Mixed information is available on what the majority of New Zealanders think. Of the more than 25,000 submissions made by the public to express their opinion on the bill, over 90% of them were against the law reform, yet some polls show more than 65% of people are for abortion being decriminalised within NZ; though the response is mixed as to how much change that should imply. At this point, the debate seems to revolve around whether abortion should be an option available to women – something already decided upon in NZ more than 40 years ago.
While it seems unlikely at this stage that New Zealand First will get a referendum on this legislation, so none of us will vote directly on the issue, it’s important to contact your MPs who will vote on your behalf to let them know if they’re representing your views well. If you’re looking to form an opinion, there’s groups on campus who can share their strongly held perspective – political parties, Pro-Life advocates, feminist activists, religious groups – of support or condemnation.