Ireland abortion vote puts New Zealand law to shame

Ireland has just resoundingly voted to modernise their abortion law, giving women the choice the should have.

This highlights New Zealand’s shameful persistence with law that is not fit for purpose to the extent that it is virtually ignored in practice, although it forces women into a demeaning process.

We should add abortion to the referendum list for next year, along with personal use of cannabis and euthanasia.

The last Government was not interested in addressing the abortion anomaly.

Abortion was not addressed in either the Labour-NZ First or Labour-Green governing agreements.

However Jacinda Ardern campaigned against the current law – Abortion ‘shouldn’t be a crime’ (September 2017):

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says abortion should not be in the Crimes Act and she would change the law.

Access to abortion is governed by the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.

“It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act. People need to be able to make their own decision. People need to be able to make their own decisions. I want women who want access to be able to have it as a right.”

At the same time Bill English supported the law as it is but also supported a conscience vote:

Prime Minster Bill English, a conservative Catholic, said he supported the law as it was and he would be opposed to liberalisation. He described the current set-up, where a woman has to get a certificate from two separate medical professionals saying she needed an abortion, was “broadly acceptable” and was working.

However, English said it would be a “conscience decision”, so his MP could vote freely on it.

Why not let the people vote on it?

February 2018: Labour moves to legalise abortion

Andrew Little surprised observers today when he revealed that a draft referral on reforming New Zealand’s abortion law had been circulated to New Zealand First and the Greens. Little said today that he received a letter from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the coalition was formed directing him to begin the process of reforming the law.

Once the two parties give feedback, the referral will be sent to the Law Commission to make a recommendation.

New Zealand is not just out of step with modern law, it is also out of step with modern practices.

New Zealand is an outlier among OECD countries for the time it takes to get an abortion and the way abortions are provided to patients.

In New Zealand, a patient must be referred to two specialists to sign-off on the abortion. If one refuses, the woman may need to find a third specialist. The average time from referral to procedure is 25 days.

In other countries the it can take just a week from referral to procedure. This makes it more likely for New Zealand patients to require a surgical, rather than a medical abortion, as they have passed the nine week mark.

In New Zealand, only 15 percent of abortions are medical abortions. By contrast, 62 percent of abortions in the UK are medical abortions and 45 percent of abortions performed before nine weeks (two-thirds of the total number) in the United States are medical abortions.

Terry Bellamak, President of the Abortion Law Reform Association…

…said that she would like to see abortion wiped from the Crimes Act and the restrictive grounds for abortion abolished.

Currently, abortion can be granted on the grounds that the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother; that there is a substantial risk the child will be seriously handicapped; that the pregnancy is a result of incest; or that the woman is deemed to be “severely subnormal”.

Bellamak said she would like New Zealand’s law to be reformed along the lines of Canada.

“Canada has absolutely no abortion laws and no regulations around abortion. They simply trust women,” she said.

Andrew Little refused to give much detail on what reform might look like…

…but suggested it might be broader than taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.

“There are more issues than just what’s in the Crimes Act … it’s also the hurdles that have been put in the way of women who are faced with making that decision”.

The vote would be a conscience vote, meaning MPs would be given the ability to vote freely without following a party line.

Why not a people vote, in a referendum along with cannabis and euthanasia?

Ardern and Little support reform.

Greens have actively campaigned on reform: Abortion – it’s time to decriminalise

The Green Party supports the decriminalisation of abortion because we trust women to make decisions that are best for them and their whānau/family. We want to ensure equal access to all potential options are available to pregnant women.

We want to change the abortion laws because:

  • The fact that 99% of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds reveals the dishonesty of the current legal situation.
  • The time taken to see two consultants means abortions happen later in the pregnancy. This is more dangerous for the woman, and it makes it difficult to access medical abortions (those which are conducted using medicine rather than surgery), which can only be performed at under 9 weeks’ gestation.
  • Rape (sexual violation) is not grounds for abortion under NZ law.
  • To reduce the stigma and judgement that happens over the reasons a woman chooses to have an abortion (e.g. rape being seen as more justified grounds for abortion than poverty).
  • Abortion’s continuing criminal status helps reinforce geographical variations in access to abortion services.
  • The current laws are discriminatory towards people with disabilities.

We also want to change the presumption that currently exists within medical culture and wider society, encouraged by the wording in the legislation, that if there is a significant disability diagnosis then an abortion is assumed to be desirable.

While English supported an MP conscience vote on abortion Simon Bridges could be different. In February when he became National leader:

Bridges told Mediaworks abortion should be “rare, safe and legal and I think the emphasis there is on rare. I think that’s where the vast majority of New Zealanders are”.

If that’s his view I think Bridges is out of touch with new Zealand.

Vice have noted he: “Voted to appoint a doctor strongly opposed to abortion to the Abortion Supervisory Committee.”

In principle NZ First supports people deciding things by referendum. In March last year Tracey Martin pointed this out in Politically, Abortion change rests with NZ First so what does that look like?

What’s our view on abortion legislation?

Abortions should be safe, legal and rare.

We have a policy of citizen-initiated binding referendum, held at the same time as a general election – a policy we have had for 23 years – this is one of those issues for such a referendum. It should not be decided by temporarily empowered politicians but by the public.

We need a 12 to 18 month conversation around this issue and then let the people have their say.

Topics that we would be suggest be associated with this discussion would include: Moving the issue from the Criminal Act to the Health Act, ensuring women get the best possible advice, getting more research into “why” women find themselves needing to seek this service and how can we assist them to avoid having to seek this service.

It makes more sense to me to have a referendum a year before the election. It separates issues decided from the politics of general elections, and is a very good way of engaging the public in democracy.


Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  27th May 2018

    We should not have a state religion, nor should MP’s religious beliefs dictate the law via their so-called conscience vote.

    That leaves only the options of a binding referendum or a principled decision by the Government to reform the law. If NZF will not support that then sufficient National MPs should do so.

  2. Griff

     /  27th May 2018

    Cannabis ,euthanasia,abortion in one referendum?
    Too many questions to have meaningfully debate on any single issue.

    Abortion should be free in demand.
    The Canadian experience seems to comfier the medical profession is capable of defining its own ethical boundary’s without the old male and stale goverment having any say.
    Long past time to take a medical procedure out of the crimes act.

    Happens now. The law should at lest reflect reality .
    Doctors minimizing suffering are not murders.
    My body my life I should have the right to choose when and how I die ..

    Drug law should reflect a rational examination of relative harm.

    The war on drugs has failed to limit the spread of drugs in society.
    Our outdated drug laws have harmed thousands of individuals with criminal sanction and jail. Broken up family’s destroyed careers and financed illegal activity.
    The law is commonly vied as an ass and ignored by a significant number of Kiwis . It cost us in both social capital and the real cost of enforcement of prohibition to slightly limit the availability of an easily grown herb measurably less harmful than alcohol .
    The War on Drugs approach has not worked for fifty odd years of trying
    Dont ya think we should just try something else?

    • David

       /  27th May 2018

      “Doctors minimizing suffering are not murders”

      How do you tell the murderers from the doctors seeking to minimise suffering?

    • PDB

       /  27th May 2018

      “My body my life I should have the right to choose when and how I die ..”

      The issue is also in ensuring as best as possible that people that don’t want to die are not knocked off by others for their own needs.

    • J Bloggs

       /  27th May 2018

      “My body my life I should have the right to choose when and how I die ..”

      Then do the dirty work yourself, rather than leaving it to others to do it for you.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  27th May 2018

        Then allow people access to the necessary drugs and information so they can.

        Also provide for the needs of those incapacitated by the likes of motor neuron disease.

  3. Zedd

     /  27th May 2018

    The thing that also ‘put NZ to shame’ is the talk of running a ‘non-binding reterendum’ (on cannabis).. why bother, IF the MPs decide they dont like the outcome & refuse to implement it ?
    I saw a kiwi journo. interviewing an Irish spokesperson & asking about this.. to which the reply was ‘ALL referenda are binding.. if there is clear majority’; thats called DEMOCRACY !

  4. Reply
  1. Ireland abortion vote puts New Zealand law to shame — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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