ArticlesAbortion Law Reform 2018
Reforming New Zealand's Abortion Laws
AWHC submission to the Law Commission on Abortion Law Reform May 2018
Abortion in New Zealand 1978 - 2008
Abortion in Pacific Cultures
Consumer Group Under Attack From Member of Right to Life Society
Summary of the Abortion Supervisory Committee Annual report - AWHC March-April 2017 Newsletter pg 10
Summary of the Abortion Supervisory Committee Annual Report 2011
Abortion Supervisory Committee Report 2007-2008
Abortion Decision Reserved in 4-year Civil Case - 2009
Resources and Links
Abortion Rights Aotearoa
Abortion law reform is on the political agenda, with the Law Commission having sought public submissions in May this year, in response to a request by Minister of Justice, Hon Andrew Little, for them to “provide him with a briefing on what alternative approaches could be taken in our legal framework to align with a health approach.”
The Law Commission expects to provide its advice to the Minister in October 2018.
In May, in a history making referendum, Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn that country's ban on abortion by 66.4 per cent to 33.6 per cent. Previously, abortion was permitted in only a very few cases with researchers saying as many as 3500 women seeking abortion in Britain each year, while another 2,000 end their pregnancies with pills they buy over the Internet and smuggle into Ireland for the procedure.
Ireland’s new abortion law will allow unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, and beyond that in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities or serious risks to a mother's health, bring Ireland more in line with the other 27 members of the European Union.
Irish Times columnist Finan O'Toole tweeted that “…every part of Ireland has voted in broadly the same way, which is to trust women and make them fully equal citizens.”
While New Zealand’s abortion laws are not anywhere near as restrictive as Ireland’s were, abortion here is still a crime. Under certain limited circumstances, and with the approval of two certifying consultants, New Zealand women may have an abortion. Abortion falls under both the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, which is the last time any real political debate was held on the issue.
Circumstances that do not qualify as grounds for abortion include a baby conceived as a result of sexual violence, although conception as a result of incest is grounds for an abortion. After twenty weeks gestation, that the development of the fetus is such that the child will be born with severe and unsurvivable disabilities in the very short term (for example, congenital conditions that would lead to death during or soon after birth, and or degenerative conditions that will cause significant pain and suffering to the child for the duration of its short life), are not grounds on which an abortion may be approved.
While there is a widespread belief that women can get abortion on demand in New Zealand, that is not the case, and every year women are denied abortions. Specific statistics on denied abortions are not collected. However, in 2017, under the Official Information Act, Stuff obtained “not justified” certificate numbers from the Abortion Supervisory Committee; the ASC noted that a “not justified” certificate did not necessarily indicate a denied abortion, as a third consultant could declare that the abortion was justified.
Over six years between 2010 and 2016, 1485 “not justified” certificates were issued (2010 – 344; 2011 – 181; 2012 – 198; 2013 – 283; 2014 – 216; 2016 – 264), representing approximately that number of women who were denied abortion or who had to find a third certifying consultant to approve her abortion.
The reality is that for most women who do not wish to continue with a pregnancy, they have to plead that they will be so adversely impacted either physically or mentally that to continue the pregnancy will destroy them. There is still – rightly or wrongly – significant stigma associated with mental illness and for a woman to be forced to say that she will suffer mental illness if she continues with a pregnancy, as a means to get an abortion is unnecessarily cruel and degrading.
The path to abortion law reform is not clear, but an article on Newsroom by ex-MP, Peter Dunne, suggests the process may be a lengthy one and even if law reform is sufficiently supported by the community and Parliament, changes in the current legislation may still not happen until after the next election in 2020.
The Auckland Women’s Health Council advocates for and supports freely available access to, and information about, contraception, sterilisation and abortion services, and this is mentioned specifically in our constitution. We have made submissions in the past on various issues to do with the availability of abortion and the information provided to women on abortion, and remain committed to the concept of women being able to make informed decisions around this highly emotional topic. The decision to have an abortion is never taken lightly but is every woman’s right to make.
The AWHC made a submission to the Law Commission in May. The essential points from our submission are that:
* the use of drugs to induce ‘miscarriage’ as opposed to the traditional surgical method of abortion.
Abortion Law Reform on the Law Commission Website at http://lawcom.govt.nz/news/abortion-law-reform
Booth, W. and Stanley-Becker, I. (2018): Ireland votes to overturn its abortion ban, ‘culmination of a quiet revolution,’ prime minister says, 26 May 2018, The Washington Post, US.
Cooke, H. (2017): Hundreds of Kiwi women told their abortions were 'not justified', 13 march, 2017, Stuff, accessed at https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/90390584/hundreds-of-kiwi-women-told-their-abortions-were-not-justified
Dunne, P. (2018): What our abortion debate would look like, 1 June 2018, newsroom, accessed at https://www.newsroom.co.nz/@health--science/2018/05/31/112557/what-our-abortion-debate-would-look-like
There is little disagreement that the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (CS&A) Act of 1977 needs to be overhauled. Those on both sides of this never-ending and uncompromising debate want the law changed. The Abortion Supervisory Committee that oversees the Act and reports directly to Parliament has repeatedly called for reforms to the CS&A Act in its annual reports, but to no avail. No political party is brave enough to even start the conversation and open public debate due to the strong feelings on both sides, and the harassment that inevitably seems to follow from the Right to Life society.
Decriminalisation of Abortion Law
The CS&A Act and the Abortion Supervisory Committee that oversees the Act are administered by the Ministry of Justice as the Act comes under the Crimes Act. Abortion is a woman’s health issue, not a crime. Abortion services should therefore be overseen by the Ministry of Health. This would decriminalise abortion and enable improvements to abortion services to be made more effectively.
Cost of NZ’s abortion serviceThe current abortion service is costing NZ taxpayers over $5 million a year in consultant fees. There are 176 certifying consultants on the ASC’s list of practitioners who act as consultants for women considering a termination of pregnancy. The CS&A Act requires that a woman see two certifying consultants who must both agree that she has legal grounds for an abortion. (In 2009 17,230 of the 17,550 abortions were granted on the grounds that there was a danger to the mental health of the mother.) Each consultation costs $135.
This system is long past its use-by date and is both cumbersome and unnecessarily costly. Whatever the reasons were in 1977 for establishing such a process, they no longer apply now. The money is needed to improve the quality of the service and to improve access to abortion services for women in rural areas who are currently not receiving timely access to services. It is time for change.