Welcome change to abortion law

The path to bringing a regrettable chapter of New Zealand's history to an end has become clearer.

This week, the Government announced it will introduce an overhaul of abortion law. This will include making it accessible without a statutory test in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and allowing women to make their own referral to an abortion provider.

Crucially, it will be removed from the Crimes Act and treated as a health issue.

The move is a step in the right direction, and a long overdue one.

For decades, women, in the midst of an already fraught situation, have had to suffer the indignity of being treated like criminals to obtain a medical procedure.

There are many reasons for wanting to have an abortion, but the simple fact is that women should not have to give one.

What the issue really boils down to is this: women should have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies, without judgement or persecution.

And they certainly shouldn't have to lie about mental health issues, as many New Zealand women are at present forced to do, in order to get the necessary approvals from two doctors.

Frustratingly, and unlike any other medical procedure, the abortion debate has often centred on rhetoric rather than science and facts. That has scuppered meaningful discourse and, in turn, likely hampered progress on legislative reform.

So, here are several key facts, courtesy of Statistics NZ.

In 2018, 13,282 abortions were performed in New Zealand.

Of those, 52% were for women aged in their 20s, and 38% were for women over 30.

Last year, 60% of abortions were performed before the 10th week of pregnancy.

In another move both to protect women and to reduce the spread of misinformation, legislation proposed by the Government tackles the issue of protesters outside abortion clinics.

Justice Minister Andrew Little spelled out the need for a 150m ''safety zone'' succinctly.

''Approaching a woman going to an abortion clinic and throwing leaflets and pamphlets in her face or chanting various dreadful epithets at them for going through with that health decision is pretty dreadful,'' he said.

Still, pro-choice groups say the legislation is not perfect.

Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ president Terry Bellamak questioned the 20-week limit, saying ''there are scans that happen around 20 weeks and this gives people little time to consider those results''.

That caveat appears to have been the compromise from behind-the-scenes negotiations with coalition partners NZ First. The Law Commission had recommended 22 weeks as an option.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, the lobbying from anti-abortion groups has also begun.

Family First called the proposed changes ''deeply anti-human rights'', and said it would be mounting a strong campaign against them.

Opposition from conservative groups is likely a part of the
reason successive governments have failed to act, putting it in the too-hard basket.

Abortion is not an easy issue to navigate, nor should it be.

It is deeply divisive across religions, genders, generations, and political affiliations.

That is evident in the fact the Bill is being treated as a conscience vote, allowing MPs to make personal decisions rather than having to follow party lines.

It may not have an easy path through Parliament - just yesterday, New Zealand First appeared to surprise Labour by talking about an abortion referendum - although the progress of David Seymour's End of Life Bill suggests there could be enough social liberals in the House to get it over the line.

The first reading of the Bill will take place tomorrow.

After that, we will likely have a clearer picture of how ready our politicians are to right a serious wrong.


These proposals have already been labelled McBortions on social media. Keep GPs in the loop.


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