New Zealand to decriminalise abortion
New Zealand is set to decriminalise abortion under new plans intended to bring the law “into line with many other developed countries”.
Under the present legal framework, which has remained unchanged since 1978, an abortion is only lawful in certain circumstances, including where continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the woman.
Most abortions in New Zealand are carried out on this basis, which has led to a perception that it provides a legal loophole for abortion on request. However, more than 2,500 women have been refused abortions in New Zealand since 2009.
The New Zealand Law Commission set out three models for reform in a paper, Alternative Approaches to Abortion Law, published last October.
A bill informed by the commission’s recommendations will be introduced by the government on Thursday, removing abortion law from the Crimes Act 1961.
The new legal framework will remove any statutory test on health practitioners where a woman seeking an abortion is less than 20 weeks pregnant; beyond this, health practitioners will be required to reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health, and well-being.
Women will be allowed to self-refer to an abortion service provider, and the government will have the power to set up “safe areas” around specific abortion facilities on a case-by-case basis.
The bill retains the criminal offence for unqualified people who attempt to procure an abortion on a pregnant woman or supply the means for procuring an abortion, and 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 foetus.
Justice Minister 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.”