New Zealand’s government is making moves to decriminalise abortion up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy, finally taking on the long-avoided issue.
Jacinda Ardern’s government has revealed details of a proposed bill which would change the current abortion laws dating back to 1977.
Under current laws, a woman can only get an abortion if two doctors agree that continuing with the pregnancy would endanger her physical or mental health.
If the government’s proposals go ahead, the bill would eliminate that requirement for women up to the 20-week point, and therefore removing abortion from the Crimes Act of 1961. Women beyond the 20-week mark would still be able to legally have an abortion if approved by doctors.
As reported by the New York Times, justice minister Andrew Little said ‘the purpose is to modernise our law and ensure that abortion is treated as a health issue,’ adding the changes would bring New Zealand in line with ‘many other developed countries.’
According to the BBC, he added:
It’s time for [the law] to change. Safe abortion should be treated and regulated as a health issue. A woman has a right to choose what happens to her body.
While abortion is currently illegal in the country, in reality it’s already widely available, as long as women make claims about the impact it’s having on their health and receive counselling, as well as consulting two doctors.
Pro-choice advocates have long argued this system forces women to lie to doctors in a bid to get the procedure, adding that it can be difficult outside of major cities to find two practitioners to sign off an abortion.
According to a report published by news outlet Stuff, 2,500 women have been denied abortions in New Zealand in the past decade.
The bill will be introduced into Parliament today (August 8) for a preliminary vote. The issue has been ruled as a conscience matter, meaning lawmakers are not required to cast their vote according to their party lines.
Ardern said on Monday that she expected the vote to be ‘close’.
Just over half (51 per cent) of people in New Zealand believe any woman should be permitted an abortion if she wanted one, according to a 2017 study by consulting company Ipsos. The same study found 25 per cent believed it should be permitted under certain circumstances.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.