Bill to modernise abortion law introduced

Abortion law will be modernised so it is treated as a health issue rather than a crime, Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced.

A Bill, which will have its first reading on Thursday 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

“Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change,” said 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,” Andrew Little said.

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,” said Andrew Little.

“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,” Andrew Little said.

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.