• Patrick McBride

Abortion - Bill passed

Abortion has been removed from the Crimes Act under a new law passed by Parliament during the Covid lockdown.

For over forty years abortion has been the only medical procedure considered a crime in New Zealand. But from now abortions will be treated as a health issue.

It has been a topic debated for decades and with over 25,000 submissions on the subject will continue to be discussed in-depth. Justice Minister, Andrew Little said the bill was robustly debated in Parliament with several changes made, including strengthening the post-20 week abortion criteria.

"Change has finally come, and safe abortion is legal in New Zealand,” Andrew Little said.

Those statements have upset prolife campaigners along with backlash from the disability community. Down syndrome advocacy group Saving Downs have condemned the New Zealand Government’s new abortion bill which has introduced abortion right through to birth for babies with disabilities.

"Thinking of my daughter, I can’t believe that in Aotearoa, New Zealand we would see the coalition introducing a Government Bill which will introduce abortion through to birth for babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Mike Sullivan from the advocacy group said.

'This sends a strong discriminatory message and a progressive New Zealand can do better for people with disabilities like my daughter than introducing abortion up to birth." The key aspects of the reforms that were passed by 68 votes to 51 are:

  • Removing the current offences for abortion from the Crimes Act for health practitioners and women

  • For pregnancies up to 20 weeks’ gestation, allowing the decision to have an abortion to be made by the woman in consultation with a qualified health practitioner

  • Providing a statutory test for abortion for pregnancies of more than 20 weeks’ gestation

  • Ensuring that women know that counselling is available, if needed, both before and after an abortion

  • Requiring the Minister of Health to take reasonable steps to ensure the availability of abortion, counselling, contraception and other reproductive health services in New Zealand.

The bill had world wide attention including from UK based Stop Gendercide. Their recommendation to government was to amend the Bill and make it clear that sex-selective abortion is explicitly illegal under the proposed legislation.

"In the Bill, abortion is available on request for any reason in the first 20-weeks of pregnancy. This makes abortion lawful, which could include sex-selective abortion. There would be no legal grounds for a health professional to refuse to perform a sex-selective abortion," a spokesperson said.

Rose Webster with new born baby Reggie

Back home, West Coaster Rose Webster, a mother of 5, told McBride Vision in her own experiences she feels there is missing links between choosing to become a mother or opting to abort and that link is support.

"There is very little support for an expectant mother, like most issues in this country we talk a big talk and there are all sorts of numbers you can call to get nowhere. What's lacking is environments woman can access where hands on support is given to them and options given so they feel they are not alone and have choices," Webster said. Buller born Psychologist, Shelley Durkin Zintl talking to McBride Vision said there is no single, universal psychological response to abortion. "Woman who have terminated a pregnancy can experience a range of emotions including happiness, sadness, grief, relief and guilt. Often women will experience all of these emotions at different times in their journey through abortion and beyond."

The psychological impact of abortion is complex and is influenced by a number of factors. The reasons for the termination, an unwanted pregnancy is an incredibly difficult situation to face, she said.

"Additional circumstances can make it even more emotionally charged, for example if the pregnancy is the result of a rape, or if there are major medical or developmental problems with either the mother or foetus."

What is clear, women need support in the decision making process, during and after a termination. This includes both professional support as well as acceptance and support of the woman’s decision. "Research evidence suggests that the most important factor in determining psychological outcomes for women who are considering termination, is the amount of support they receive. So, regardless of whether a woman decides to terminate or proceed with an unwanted pregnancy, if they feel adequately supported in their decision they are more likely to maintain mental and emotional wellbeing over the longer term," Durkin Zintl said.

West Coast Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor and National list MP Maureen Pugh both voted against the bill.