NZ POLITICS DAILY: Should abortion be decriminalised?

POLITICAL ROUNDUP

Dr Bryce Edwards

Abortion is still illegal in this country, technically, at least. Of course it’s usually possible to get an abortion but women have to jump through a number of bizarre hoops to get there. It’s all due to the entirely inadequate piece of legislation enacted in 1977 – the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, as well as the Crimes Act 1961. The 1977 law was highly problematic when it was passed, and the framework of rules has only got more ridiculous over time, meaning modernisation of the law is well overdue.

New Zealand’s abortion laws are, in formal terms, among the most restrictive in the world. In practice, they operate much more liberally, giving women varying degrees of access to abortion services.

Gordon Campbell had a good article yesterday on the current situation – see: On the conflicts over abortion. He challenges the notion – put forward on Sunday by Prime Minister Bill English – that the current arrangements are working fine: “So let’s take stock: a cumbersome law that delivers abortion services inequitably throughout New Zealand. A conservative law that criminalises abortion, and relies on subterfuge to operate in the liberal fashion that the public expects, and demands. Abortion procedures being partially abetted and superseded by chemical agents, self-administered, by those able to access and afford the pills involved. And a Women’s Minister and deputy PM busily chirping that she’s ‘pro-choice’ to liberal voters in Auckland while otherwise sitting on her hands. Yep, nothing to see here, move on.”

New Zealand’s strange abortion laws

The legal status and practice of abortion services in New Zealand has been discussed much more than usual recently. Plenty of articles have looked at the reality and detail of what happens in this relatively cloistered area. For example, Henry Cooke reported this week on recent statistics: “Around 13,000 abortions were performed in total in 2015, down from over 16,000 in 2010. One in four Kiwi women are estimated to have had an abortion” – see: Hundreds of Kiwi women told their abortions were 'not justified'.

Using material obtained under the Official Information Act, Cooke also found the number of women being denied – at least, initially – abortion services remained constant: “Last year, 252 ‘not justified abortion’ certificates were issued. Close to 1500 have been handed out this decade.’

But the final numbers of women denied abortions is not compiled by the Abortion Supervisory Committee, which is  the agency with the role of overseeing the laws – see Kristin Hall’s Hundreds of 'not justified' abortion certificates given to Kiwi women.

This has raised the question of just how restricted abortion services are in New Zealand. Recently, Stephanie Rodgers explained: “It’s difficult to access, especially if you aren’t bureaucracy-savvy or don’t live in a major centre. A pregnant person on the West Coast will have to travel to Christchurch, at least twice, to a clinic which is only open a few days each week, to terminate a pregnancy. They’ll need to take time off work or find last-minute childcare and god forbid they’re in a vulnerable situation where they have to keep it all a secret. We’re talking about a safe medical procedure, a basic question of personal agency, a life-changing situation not adequately supported by our health system” – see: The political prospects for 2017: living our values.

According to left-wing activist Daphna Whitmore, the current arrangements also do not equate with good health practice: “This farcical charade is because the law denies the woman the right to make her choice independently. The legal obstacle-course means abortions happen later than ideal. It is unnecessarily costly, involving medical specialists to certify abortions and is far from best medical practice” – see: Getting abortion out of the Crimes Act.

Whitmore elaborates: “If abortion was decriminalised, clinics could provide services locally. For instance, if the law was changed women could have a relatively simple medical abortion by taking tablets to induce a miscarriage. This could be provided by a nearby GP or a family planning clinic, as early as three weeks and up to nine weeks of a pregnancy. Later abortions require surgical intervention. Earlier abortions are safer, easier and recognised as best practice.”

The recent history of abortion laws

To understand the current abortion laws and their history, it’s well worth reading Ben Thomas’ 2008 NBR article, Time to stop being polite, which explains how the laws ended up being a compromise between the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the debate: “The deal brokered in 1977 following a royal commission inquiry was commonly referred to as the abortion compromise. That's possibly a more roundabout way of describing it than a "polite fiction." Abortion as a woman's individual right was rejected. It was permitted only as a medical procedure where the prospective mother faced serious physical or mental harm as a result of carrying the unborn child to term.”

So in law, abortion would be a crime and covered by the Crimes Act. But there would effectively be exemptions for women who could satisfy certain criteria. In the few years after the law was passed, this was seen as a major defeat for the pro-choice movement, abortion clinics closed, and thousands of women had to go to Australia for abortions instead.

Eventually, the restrictive laws began being interpreted in an increasingly liberal way by many doctors. But there has always been a somewhat dishonest and degrading nature to the compromise. Women and medical consultants would essentially have lie about their situation, or least stretch the truth beyond credibility. This meant that in 2008 a judicial review of the practices of the act found that the law was apparently being broken. This is covered very well by Chris Barton’s 2009 feature article, Abortion: all agree the law is an ass.

Barton explained that “High Court Justice Forrest Miller gave voice to what some had suspected for some time – there is "reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants" in New Zealand.”

Barton also discussed whether this arrangement was satisfactory: “There are some arguments for doing nothing – the law, despite being outdated, does actually allow women to get abortions, even if they do have to go through a cumbersome, some say demeaning, process that sees most of them granted an abortion because of the danger to their mental health. On the other hand, the law is doing the opposite of what it set out to do – to provide restrictions on abortions. As Right to Life argued before Justice Miller, the effect of the law is that ‘New Zealand has abortion on request.’ The irony of the situation is that both factions in debate actually agree on one point – the law is an ass.”

There was further very interesting analysis of this debate at the time – see No Right Turn’s Abortion: Putting it back on the agenda, and Karl du Fresne’s Abortion law travesty exposed.

Public views on abortion laws

So is New Zealand as divided over abortion as it was in the 1970s? It appears that New Zealanders are now much more liberal. Sally Murphy reports on one recent survey: “More than 50% of people think an abortion should be legal if the woman does not want to be a mother or cannot afford another child, a new survey shows” – see: More than half NZers back legalising abortion – survey.

Further details of the poll results can be found in Nicholas Jones’ report, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's abortion stance 'contradictory': Andrew Little. For example, in the scenario that a “Pregnant woman is likely to die without an abortion,” 77% supported abortion being legal, with 5 per cent disagreeing, and 18 per cent being unsure or refusing to answer.

The research was carried out by David Farrar’s Curia research company, and he presents the results in a different way, showing the “net level of support” for each scenario – for example, 72% favour abortion being legal if the women is likely to die – see: Poll on abortion.

Commenting on these results, Terry Bellamark of the Abortion Law Reform Association, says “These numbers demonstrate New Zealanders overwhelmingly support abortion on request. It’s not even close” – see: New Zealand Is Pro-choice on Abortion.

Bellamark calls for reform: “why can’t we have a system that is cost effective instead of wasting money on certifying consultants? Why can’t we have a system that doesn’t force patients to waste time running around getting approvals, necessitating more complicated and expensive procedures? Why can’t we have a system that puts the patients’ welfare first, instead of prioritising a box-ticking exercise to satisfy a 40-year old abortion bureaucracy? Don’t ask the Ministry of Health. The abortion bureaucracy comes under the Ministry of Justice. Because abortion is still a crime. The current system serves everyone poorly. It’s not good enough. We need to decriminalise abortion, and reform our antiquated abortion laws.”

Pro-choice campaigner Sarah Batkin has started a petition for reform on Change.org, and it currently has 12,612 signatures – see: Legalise Abortion in New Zealand.

Finally, for three personal accounts of women’s experiences of abortion, see Frances Cook’s Real stories of women who've had an abortion in New Zealand, and The Spinoff’s two anonymous accounts: To the staff of Wellington Hospital’s Te Mahoe clinic, and ‘I love my child to the end of the world. But if I could go back and change it, I would change it’


22 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.

This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about MyNBR Tags

Post Comment

22 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

Terry Bellamark is being more than a little disingenious, as is Dr Edwards.
They may claim the statistical high road when it suits them, but ignore other polls (also done by Curia funnily enough) that show nearly 50% of people think having an abortion could harm your mental health: https://www.familyfirst.org.nz/2017/03/women-having-abortions-risk-menta...

And if we are so liberal, why does no-one want to talk about it except fanatic ALRANZ and mischeivous ex lecturers?

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Why would a layman's view of what might cause mental health issues matter? Why is that a call for banning or curbing abortions rather than funding mental health issues in this country?

What a ridiculous poll. How anyone takes that political pressure group seriously is mind boggling.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Um, the poll was run by Curia, whom did a survey for ALRANZ as well that was recently published. So, you're saying Curia is no good at polling unless they do it for ALRANZ? Right........

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Most people know very well what in abortion is. It's killing a human being while it is utterly defenceless In its mother's womb.

It's a grisly and horrible business - regardless of how the pro-abortion eextremists like to whitewash the whole process. And overseas the tide has well and truly turned against abortion In favour of protecting the unique unborn child.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

It's a pity that they don't have abortion, or at least some sort of birth control in these African countries that continually ask us to provide never ending amounts of money to feed them from starving to death by the countless millions every year. Yet still managing to pump out babies while doing so. I certainly hope you are providing much of your hard earned to provide for the survival of those unique children, that maybe would have been better off unborn.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Ultrasound technology, together with biology, embryology, fetal surgery, and examination of the human remains of an abortion, all tell us that the victim targeted for abortion is a human being, belonging to the human family, a human being who can be identified as a daughter or son, a ‘who’ not a generic ‘thing’.

True justice requires that elective abortions be recognized and treated not as harmless, idiosyncratic, personal ‘choices’ but as abusive practices, as human rights violations perpetrated by individuals and involving the complicity of politicians, judges and others.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 1

I absolutely agree - a multitude of research agrees with what you are saying.
Yes, an unborn child is not yet capable of life independent of its mother, but has all bodily functions, responds to various stimuli - let's get real and call it what it is - it is murder.
So, people talk about being pro-choice - what they actually mean, is how do I get rid of this problem?
The proper question to answer is "why do i get pregnant in the first place" - that answer is quite simple; don't have sex or if you do, then there are many
methods available so that one does not get pregnant.
Question to answer - where does the sanctity of life come into this debate ?

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 1

An excellent comment, Rita. Thank you. And two human beings are involved in this abusive practice - both the mother and the child - one of whom is put to death - while the other never really gets over what she has done - and would often not choose to do if she got some genuine help.

This is never offered by the pro-abortion feminists. All they offer is death.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

There are plenty of woman out there that have had multiple abortions, and they seem to get over it just fine. I'll bet your one of the pain in the arse brigade that camp outside the hospital on abortion day harassing the poor woman as they go in. I once drove right through you lot on the way in, and again on the way out. I got over that just fine.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

If we were by contra to request a law change allowing all people proposing an abortion to be shot to preserve the general value of life, or because we felt our lifestyle was going to be threatened in some way by them would that be ok to debate in this forum?
We could discuss the various reports necessary but of course it should be some form of deferred inevitability.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

This is one of the things which the Greens have had right for quite some time. I'm glad ACT and Labour have caught up on this issue. Abortion should be decriminalised.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 1

I find it odd that feminist have been so very pro-abortion when simplistically of the 14000 abortions carried out in NZ annual half would be girls

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

LOL

Can't stop laughing.

Fess up. Odds on you're a school teacher (or certainly educated by one).

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

You really don't know what feminism means do you. Or is that just a poor attempt at humour? So hard to tell these days if people are serious. I'd like to believe people aren't that stupid but unfortunately I know it's not the case.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

What you wont find in a liberal position is honesty. Nor will you find any thinking heads because they plant themselves in the sand refusing to consider the consequences of their ideas.
No wonder we have a high suicide rate. At either end of life our society has no clear values around the value of life itself.
Why is it in this forum we can just nod at supply demand curves without question but when it comes to life itself we set reason on fire before the alter of hedonism.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Christ, it's like living in the Middle Ages, especially with the Catholic primitive running the country who is on record it's my lot as an ape, or something, to suffer for his god, meaning, as with abortion, there can be no right to euthanasia, either (or drug legalisation, et al).

At some (late) stage a fetus becomes a sentient human: after that stage an abortion should be illegal, yes, but up until that stage its merely a mass of cells floating around in a jelly that has no more significance than mint sauce (unless you imbue the mint sauce with the primitive values of the deluded Christ-clan drinking Christ's blood while mindlessly - most often tunelessly - chanting hymns). At any stage up until that (late) stage when sentience exists, a woman, as an individual, must have full rights/volition over her body.

Case closed. (And three cheers for hedonism if you are harming no one and living off your own income). So sick of Woswer-World - Cassandra - and religious nutters, Christian, Moslem and everyone who has absolved responsibility for their own lives to a Being from a sick nursery rhyme. (For those who are against abortion on Christian grounds, please explain the contradiction of belief in a raving psycho-daddy who made his son die horribly to prove his love for him. God would rightly be locked up in a civilised world).

Etc and so forth.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

All foeti now list "airport puppy" as their primary aspiration on graduating to sentient being.
It is well known in womb circles that there is more empathy for dogs holding up airport traffic than foeti posing a lifestyle imposition in NZ.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Let the government give the same care, respect and assistance to all pregment New Zealanders. All are nz citizens, all should be equal under nz law.
The decision to abort or go full term is best left to those who are most affected, ie The pregnant woman, her family and partner.
The only role of the Gov. is to decide and rule on when a feotus is a legal human being. That decision should be based on transparent and proven science, mp's must put aside their personal feelings.
I also shudder at the thought of abortion, but my feelings, and the "feelings" of mp's should count for nought.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Behind abortion on demand (and the push for euthanasia) is a mechanistic view of human life. If we humans are simply a confluence of time plus chance plus the impersonal, then what does any of this matter?

However, if all human life has its genesis in a creator God who has formed us in his very image, who imbues our lives with meaning and purpose, then it matters very much indeed.

We live in an age when even the churches, with perhaps the exception of the Catholics, find it difficult to frame this conversation from a theological perspective, one that formally shaped our cultural norms. Consequently it is almost too much to expect any politician to articulate this viewpoint. Even the openly Catholic Bill English appears to wish this would all just go away.

We are living in a morally regressive neo-pagan culture were 'choice' is the ultimate good, trumping even human life itself.

I have no doubt we will eventually increase the state sanctioned killing at both ends of the age spectrum, and consider ourselves more civilised for having done so.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

Perhaps the reason people don't frame that theological argument is because they realise we were not created by God...

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

What Conar said, and without choice, Brendan, you don't have a life. At least not one worth living; if you want to debate important values via a civilised morality of man qua man (not your monstrous, wrathful god fantasy.)

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Debater 1: Id like to make an argument for reason based on the existence of stones.

Debater 2: I dont believe in stones.

Debater 1: Lets just put them to one side then for a minute and Ill argue for reason from the existence of cohunas.

Debater 2: So you are saying you dont believe in stones.

Debater 1: No , but you seem more intersted in things you can touch and feel so I thought we should start there. Now, on to reason...

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

NZ Market Snapshot

Forex

Sym Price Change
USD 0.7170 -0.0012 -0.17%
AUD 0.9137 -0.0023 -0.25%
EUR 0.6086 -0.0006 -0.10%
GBP 0.5410 -0.0012 -0.22%
HKD 5.5991 -0.0082 -0.15%
JPY 80.3600 -0.2270 -0.28%

Commods

Commodity Price Change Time
Gold Index 1301.2 -8.600 2017-10-16T00:
Oil Brent 57.6 0.670 2017-10-16T00:
Oil Nymex 52.1 0.420 2017-10-16T00:
Silver Index 17.3 -0.071 2017-10-16T00:

Indices

Symbol Open High Last %
NZX 50 8090.7 8114.1 8090.7 0.23%
NASDAQ 6622.6 6632.5 6605.8 0.28%
DAX 13017.2 13026.5 12991.9 0.09%
DJI 22892.9 22960.1 22871.7 0.37%
FTSE 7535.4 7557.0 7535.4 -0.11%
HKSE 28777.2 28777.2 28692.8 0.17%
NI225 21352.2 21394.0 21255.6 0.15%
ASX 5846.8 5894.9 5846.8 0.76%