This morning The Nation asked Is it time for abortion law reform?
The Nation has spoken to a number of women about their experiences. Some didn’t want to be identified.
The common theme is that seeking an abortion in New Zealand is a drawn-out process that adds stress and discomfort to an already fraught situation.
“It’s unnecessarily complicated, it’s out of date,” says Dame Margaret Sparrow, who has been advocating for abortion law reform for decades.
“I think it’s demeaning to women because women can’t make the decision for themselves – the decision has to be made by two certifying consultants.
“And also, I don’t think we need grounds for abortion – 98 percent are done on the grounds of mental health. I think that’s ridiculous.”
Under New Zealand law, abortion is a crime. But the law outlines a few scenarios where women can obtain an abortion at under 20 weeks’ gestation:
- if the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother
- if there’s a substantial risk that the child would be “seriously handicapped”
- if the child is a result of incest
- if the women is “severely subnormal”.
Handicapped and subnormal are not terms you hear much any more.
The way abortion law works in practice in New Zealand is outdated and outlandish, demanding dishonesty from women seeking abortions as well as from doctors rubber stamping them – if the woman is lucky, otherwise it is degrading.
When a woman decides to seek an abortion, she first has to get a referral from her doctor. She has to undergo a number of tests, including an ultrasound.
She’ll see two doctors, called certifying consultants, who give the sign-off for the termination.
She’ll also be offered counselling. In some areas it’s compulsory.
Ms Ruscoe said for her, the process took a month.
“I had pretty much every side-effect it is possible to get. It made it really difficult to work, really difficult for me to keep it from people around me. Emotionally it was really difficult, it was stressful, it was pretty much the longest month of my life.”
For A, the process was similar.
“It was extremely tiring. It took every ounce of energy to be able to continue to just go through my day-to-day without letting everything go. That was hard.”
And a bad experience with a social worker made it much more difficult.
“It felt like I was at the mercy of everybody else and their opinions, and what they thought was best.
“It is my body and I made the best decision I could at the time and I don’t regret it.
The law needs to properly reflect modern public attitudes and practices. But MPs and parties don’t seem keen on doing anything about it.
But the Government says change isn’t necessary.
“We’ve made it quite clear it’s not something we’re planning to review at the moment,” said Minister of Justice Amy Adams.
“Our main concern is that the law is working as Parliament intended, and I haven’t’ seen any indication that that clumsy language is affecting its operation. That’s the critical thing for me.”
The whole way it operates is more than clumsy, it’s crazy – women just about have to claim they are crazy to get an abortion.
National isn’t the only political party apparently ducking for cover. The Labour Party wants a Law Commission review of abortion law, but justice spokesperson and deputy leader Jacinda Ardern declined to be interviewed for this story.
Her spokesperson says that’s because it’s a conscience issue rather than a party one.
That is, doesn’t want to do anything about it.
The Greens and ACT support decriminalising abortion. The Green Party’s Jan Logie says changing the law isn’t a topline priority, but it’s a fundamental human rights issue.
“When we have a law that is being loosely interpreted, we can feel grateful but we can’t feel secure. I really think that is another call for us to act and make sure our law reflects what we want.”
‘Not a topline priority’ means they won’t do anything about it. That’s a political way of appearing to support something but not doing anything.
The national government won’t do anything, and no one else is trying to do anything about.
There are no current Members’ Bills in the system on it.
Women are poorly served by their Parliamentary representatives on this.