Abortion Legislation Bill passes Second Reading 81-39

The Abortion Legislation Bill had it’s Second Reading debate last night and passed on a personal (conscience) vote easily, 81-39. The bill is a much better approach to abortion than the current law that is not followed in practice, making abortion health issue rather than a legal issue.

From Abortion Legislation Bill — Second Reading

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice):
(Edited)

This bill was introduced on 5 August last year and was referred to the Abortion Legislation Committee, a special committee set up specifically for consideration of this bill. The committee was established by the House precisely for that purpose. I want to thank members of the committee, in particular the chair, the Hon Ruth Dyson, and the deputy chair, the Hon Amy Adams, for the work they did. They received more than 25,000 submissions. They heard from more than 130 people during 30 hours of oral evidence.

This bill and this topic are a very sensitive topic. It’s a very difficult topic for many citizens and many, many members of this House to discuss and debate, but debate it we must, because this legislation that we’re now considering—the changes to which we are considering—are more than 40 years old and it is timely and appropriate to consider it.

I have previously spoken about the reasons why I believe the law governing abortion needs to be changed, not the least of which is that the legislation is so old, but also the fact that the framework for abortion in New Zealand right now is set out in both the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, and a woman seeking an abortion should not have her actions stigmatised as if she were committing a criminal act—she is not; she is making a decision about herself and her body.

Following the select committee process, the Abortion Legislation Committee has recommended changes to improve access to abortion services which it considers are in the best interests of women.

There has been scaremongering about abortions up to birth, which is a distortion of what will be allowed for the good of the health of the mother and the unborn child. The vast majority of abortions are in the first 20 weeks.

In relation to abortion after 20 weeks, in response to submissions received, the revised bill changes the test that a qualified health practitioner must follow if providing abortion services to a woman who is more than 20 weeks pregnant.

The revised test expands some of the wording from the original bill. In fact, the requirements now include a requirement that the health practitioner regards the abortion as clinically appropriate, the health practitioner has to consult another health practitioner—so it’s not just one but two—and, of course, that reflects current practice anyway.

We have to remember that for women seeking an abortion at 20 weeks, generally speaking that is a wanted pregnancy but there is something seriously wrong either with the foetus or with the woman’s health. This is a very difficult point at which to make this decision, and I hope that people embarking on this debate will recognise that. That is now reflected in the changes that the committee has proposed.

Abortions for ‘sex selection’ was an issue raised.

They add in a requirement that the medical professional has to have regard to his or her relevant legal, professional and ethical standards to which they are subject, and also consider the woman’s physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing, and, of course, the gestational age of the foetus.

The committee was concerned about submissions made that some might consider an abortion on the grounds of gender biased sex selection, and they point to evidence overseas. The committee concluded that there was no evidence of this happening in New Zealand but they wanted a statement in the bill that reflected the, generally, New Zealand view on this, which is that we don’t tolerate sex selection as a reason for an abortion.

On ‘safe areas’ (from opponents and protesters)  in the vicinity of places where abortions are done:

I turn briefly to safe areas because I know this is an area to test those who are vigilant about and are champions of freedom of speech in this country, and that’s very important and we need those voices—they’re absolutely vital. The truth is that there are women who are seeking abortions and going to facilities where they are prevailed upon in an unseemly and entirely inappropriate way, and they should not be subject to that sort of behaviour.

Now, the changes that the committee have recommended in this regard are to shift the offence from a reckless sort of standard to an objective test; it’s now expressed as an ordinary reasonable person test. That is it’s an offence to intimidate, interfere, or obstruct a person in a safe area in a manner that the ordinary reasonable person would know would cause emotional distress to a protected person. Protected person is defined as either a medical practitioner going to a facility from which an abortion might be carried out, or a person who is seeking an abortion.

The committee has also inserted a requirement that each safe area is reviewed within five years of the area’s establishment. There is a process to go through to establish a safe area, it’s done by the Minister of Health in consultation with the Minister of Justice, there has to be good reasons for it, it has to be done by Order in Council, and it is reviewed on a periodic basis.

Contentious objection:

This is another sensitive area too, particularly for health practitioners who do not support the idea of an abortion. For contraception and sterilisation services, the person with an objection to dispensing advice to a patient had to tell the patient how to access the contact details of another provider of the services; for abortion services, the person objecting would have to tell the patient how to access a list of service providers.

The committee has simplified this process for someone with a contentious objection to ensure timely access for the person seeking services. The revised process is that the contentious objector must tell the person seeking an abortion or sterilisation or contraception services how to access the contact details of another person who is a provider of the service requested.

The committee also picked up on an existing provision in the current Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act related to contentious objection that had not been amended in the bill as it was introduced. This section regards supply of contraception to victims of sexual violation. The committee has aligned the requirements for practitioners with conscientious objections in these instances to the process set out in the bill.

Closing:

We need a law where a pregnant woman can and should be trusted to make the decision for themselves about an abortion in consultation with their health practitioner. This bill does that, and on that basis I commend this bill to the House.

Other speakers:

AGNES LOHENI (National):

As a member of the Abortion Legislation Committee, I was not able to effect any meaningful change to this bill despite an overwhelming number of submissions against it. As a consequence, I wrote a minority view to ensure those views that opposed were heard.

I have outlined a lot to be alarmed about in this bill. I am deeply saddened at this bill’s blatant attack on the right to life and recognition for our unborn babies. If we can discard the life of an unborn baby—if we can diminish their value and their humanity to the point that we no longer call them babies, then we have lost our own humanity, because they are the smallest versions of us. Late-term surgical abortions are nothing short of barbaric; there is nothing kind in it. A truly progressive society protects the rights of all its members down to the smallest and most vulnerable—the unborn child. I take a stand for that unborn child. I oppose this bill.

Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn):

 I want to begin by stating very clearly in the debate on this bill—which is a conscience issue—where I start from, and my fundamental views in this regard. I have an absolute belief that women have the inalienable right to control their own reproductive systems and to determine, ultimately, whether or not they have a child.

I think there is no place for a Parliament to be specifying and legislating what the appropriate medical treatment is in any given case. We are not medical professionals; we are lawmakers, and we have to respect that. I trust women and doctors to make these decisions carefully, gravely, and appropriately.

GREG O’CONNOR (Labour—Ōhāriu):

I stand in opposition to this bill. I voted for it at the first reading because I felt that the bill needed to go through a select committee to see if it could be made palatable.

Taking the legislation out of the Crimes Act, as I said, I agree with. That is something that I think there are sufficient safeguards in there now to keep it outside the Crimes Act. It does belong as a health issue, as some of the other speakers mentioned. But post – 20 weeks, there is just simply not enough safeguard to ensure that those—

PAULO GARCIA (National):

 I stand with sadness, with a heart filled with tribulation and pain because, once again, I stand to argue against a bill that seeks to enable the ending—the taking—of a human life by another human being.

The bill opens the door for the abortion of babies with not just severe abnormalities but also moderate ones, making disabled unborn children very vulnerable under the proposed law. That the current law explicitly prevents abortions on the basis of foetal abnormality up to 20 weeks, but the proposed law does not do the same represents a major step backwards in terms of disability rights.

I finish with a quote from the New York Times, quoting a Harvard medical professor who said that we pass through different stages as we grow, and that a “baby of five weeks in the womb differs from the newborn, but so does the toddler differ from the teen. … but we don’t pass from person to non-person, or vice versa.”

Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central):

I have extraordinary respect for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But I support this bill for a few very fundamental and simple reasons. The first is I believe that every woman in New Zealand has the right to control her body. It’s very simple. It’s very simple; in fact, it’s so simple that we are one of the most archaic countries in the world—even Catholic Ireland has more liberal abortion laws than New Zealand.

Fundamentally, there are a couple of other reasons why it is crucial, in my view, that we have this law change. Again, I want to quote Dame Margaret Sparrow, who really, effectively, said a number of years ago that it is an absolute farce in this country that 98 percent—I think it was at the time—of the abortions were on the grounds of mental health. That is a farce, that is wrong, that is archaic, and it is time that, as a country, we changed that and we faced up to the fact that it is archaic and outdated and wrong to have a law on the books that, effectively, says that.

I do believe, as well, that many women in New Zealand, basically, fundamentally, want equality. They want the ability to have control over their body. They don’t want to have to be in these situations, but, if they are, they, ultimately, want respect and equality. I believe that this bill is timely. It’s progressive. It’s important. It will lead to less suffering

ANAHILA KANONGATA’A-SUISUIKI (Labour):

I today stand along the over about 91 percent of submitters that are opposed to this bill. I am acknowledging that 17 percent of submitters are for the bill. My views in opposition to this bill are derived from Tongan culture and as a Christian Tongan. That’s where I formed my view. And I need to say it in this House that I am a Christian and I was raised a Tongan Christian. And I don’t stand here to say that I represent all Christians or all Pasifika. I am representing my views as a Tongan and all the people that have actually spoken to me about those views.

Number of submitters is a part of a process, it is not a measure of public support or opposition.

Like I said in my introduction of my speech, I don’t stand here to represent all Tongans. I don’t stand here to represent all Christians. I stand here to represent what I’ve heard through the select committee and my definition of what this bill does. I accept that it’s trying to reform the legislation, but we must also remember that abortion is legal in New Zealand, but there is an opportunity to differentiate between a child and an adult. And I disagree with the fact that it is an informed decision by a woman who is pregnant at 14 to have an abortion. I disagree with that—that it is informed. And I also disagree with the fact that it’s the woman’s choice, because, at the end of the day, it is the health practitioner that makes the decision for the woman to have an abortion. And in that tone, I oppose this bill to the House.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT):

I rise in support of the Abortion Legislation Bill, a piece of legislation whose time has come—decades ago—a piece of legislation that will take abortion out of the Crimes Act because it should never have been a crime. As earlier speakers have made a point of saying, there is no other medical procedure that is legislated the way abortion is.

I want to talk about the moral case behind this bill. I get messages saying, “Do you support abortion?” Of course I don’t. Nobody does. Nobody wakes up one day and thinks, “That’s what I’ll do today.” It is a difficult and harrowing experience to go through.

But that’s not the question. The question before this House tonight is: what should be the role of this Parliament and what should be the role of the State when it comes to abortion law reform? If any member thinks that it is somehow helpful for the State apparatus, for this Parliament, to ask the police and the corrections and the courts in this country to run around and try and compel women to take unwanted pregnancies to term against their will, then I don’t know how else to argue with those people, but I hope they’re in the minority tonight.

NICOLA WILLIS (National):

I support this reform of our abortion laws. Many people I deeply respect and admire do not share my views on this issue. I feel moved to express why I support it. I have carefully studied this bill. I have spoken with medical practitioners, those who perform abortions, those who have had abortions, those who’ve supported those who have had abortions, and my conclusion is that this bill advances the rights of women.

It will improve women’s access to health services. It will enhance our legal autonomy over our own bodies and our own fertility. It brings our law into line with good medical practice. It reduces unnecessary and potentially harmful delays in access to abortions, and it improves reporting on important issues such as equity and timeliness of access, availability of counselling services, and the spectre of gender selection.

This bill will reduce harm. Fundamentally, it improves choice for all of us and, crucially, requires that choice from none of us.

Let us trust women and let us trust medical professionals. I want my children to live in a world that genuinely cherishes the life of every woman, that respects her right to manage her own fertility, her own body, her own future. That is the world I want for my daughters. That is the world I want for my sons.

DARROCH BALL (NZ First):

I rise tonight not on behalf myself to speak on this bill, but on behalf of the party.

As we promised in the first reading of this bill, we will see this bill through to the committee of the whole House where we will table a Supplementary Order Paper requesting a referendum on this issue.

As we promised in the first reading of this bill, we will see this bill through to the committee of the whole House where we will table a Supplementary Order Paper requesting a referendum on this issue.

We believe that this conscience issue, affecting the fabric of human society, should be decided upon by the people of New Zealand, not decided upon by 120 temporarily empowered politicians. We don’t believe that individuals in this House—their life experiences, their beliefs, or their family histories—are any more or less important than anyone outside of this House.

The fact that this House has decided that this vote is a conscience vote and not a party vote is explicit acknowledgment that every single individual Kiwi in this country will have an individual perspective based on their own conscience, not based on anyone’s conscience in this House, and especially not based on temporarily empowered politicians in this House or anything that’s based on party politics.

Going by the second reading vote, if NZ First MPs vote against the final reading if they fail with their amendment to have a referendum it looks still likely to pass.

Personally I don’t support a referendum on this.

CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville):

I refer to the report of the majority of the Abortion Legislation Committee on this, the Abortion Legislation Bill. The majority report is linguistically elusive, ideologically incoherent, and scientifically unsound.

I wish to also make a note about the select committee majority report claiming that the current legislation contains deeply offensive language in relation to disabled people. The disabled people themselves and the advocacy groups who have contacted me in relation to the bill find much more deeply offensive the notion that their lives will inevitably be deemed to be worth less in many situations, whereby conditions such as, for example, Down’s syndrome can be effectively screened to an even greater extent than is already the case by the fact that this bill does have a liberalising effect—that is, it makes the regime more liberal both in relation to pre-20 weeks and post-20 weeks, until either such time as birth is given or abortion services performed.

JOANNE HAYES (National):

 I stand to take a call opposing the Abortion Legislation Bill tonight. I’ve sat here on purpose to listen to the contributions in the House tonight, and some of the contributions have left me a little bit flummoxed with some of their ideas. I do not support the idea of taking the Abortion Legislation Bill into a referendum. I think this is what our job is here, to make a decision, and I don’t think that it should be anything like inside any referendum like New Zealand First did with the End of Life Choice Bill.

I think one of the speakers tonight from the Government side of the House spoke about this bill being abortion on demand. That’s what this bill is actually working towards. It is about abortion on demand.

Effectively yes, up to 20 weeks only.

This abortion bill is a licence to kill the unborn; that’s what it is. It’s a dangerous piece of legislation. Whilst there will be people in here that are supporting this bill that will say, “No, no, no, that’s not what happens.”, in reality that is what will happen. That’s what concerns me most, is the reality of it hitting the ground, hitting the women out there in the community and the families, that this will be a licence to kill unborn children. It ignores absolutely everybody’s opposition. I’m really, really sad to be standing here on a day, on an evening like this evening, to be able to say to my colleagues who are supporting this bill, it is the wrong thing to do.

Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills):

The opposition to this bill came not from people who oppose this bill but from people who oppose abortion full stop. People who, if they were being given the contraception, sterilisation, and abortion legislation, would oppose it.

There is nothing more offensive than being told that a woman would wake up one morning, 30 weeks pregnant and say, “I’m over this. I’m going to have an abortion.” Then to layer on top of that the accusation that a doctor would then say, “That meets my professional and ethical standards.”, and would go ahead with that termination—I don’t know who the people who say that knows. Who do you know that would do that? Nobody. It’s just a lie. On any topic, I think it’s important to tell the truth, but on a topic as important as this, as sensitive and as contentious as this, we should just tell the truth.

We felt we were taking a needed step, but one which we wanted to take very carefully in in a very considered way, and I think the committee did a very good job of that. We want to see a country where there are very, very few abortions. Our numbers are heading in the right directions now; I want to commend Pharmac for introducing long-acting contraception. We need more education, we need better access to contraception, but we will still need abortion services—the fewer the better, but the earlier, more equitable, and safer the better. That’s what this legislation seeks to deliver and I commend it to the House.

JAN LOGIE (Green):

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and it’s a real honour to speak tonight, as a feminist who has been working towards abortion law reform for years and also as a member of the Green Party who committed to decriminalising abortion about six years ago—[Interjection from gallery]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume her seat. That man will be removed from the gallery.

JAN LOGIE: This may point to the need for safe areas and the fact that, actually, there is opposition to those of us who support women’s reproductive health rights. And that has resulted, or at least been used as an argument, in the assault against my co-leader.

If you care about women’s health, if you want to see these women accessing abortion care, accessing it earlier if it has to happen, this is the legislation to do it. I do think we should get rid of the 20-week threshold altogether, and that was bounded for me, it came through clearly from those very small numbers of people who are actually involved in providing this care in the country.

When we heard, previously, from a speaker talking about a GP saying, well, how were they to interpret wellbeing, they wouldn’t know what that would mean—it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t understand that, because they wouldn’t be providing them, because there’s only a very small handful of people who are qualified to provide those services. The thing is that it is according to very strict guidelines of care and medical ethics, and it is my belief that the decisions should still remain with the pregnant person.

A personal vote was called for on the question, That the amendments be agreed to.

  • Ayes 80
  • Noes 28

A personal vote was called for on the question, That the Abortion Legislation Bill be now read a second time.

  • Ayes 81
  • Noes 39

So it looks like the Abortion Legislation Bill should pass comfortably, and without a referendum.  That would be good, in my opinion.

The split between the first 20 weeks (choice) and the second 20 weeks (medical decision) is  pragmatic compromise that largely fits with current practice despite the archaic law.

There is strong opposition to changing the law, but the Bill just makes what is currently practiced officially legal with the stigma of ‘breaking the law’ removed.

The Bill won’t change much, apart from the sensible change from a legal to a personal or health issue. The number of abortions has been dropping, that trend may or may not continue but should be largely unaffected by the Bill.

 

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13 Comments

  1. Duker

     /  4th March 2020

    Thanks for that , it makes a good summary of the views expressed and well worth reading

    Reply
  2. Corky

     /  4th March 2020

    Sometimes reality is hard to face. Best to talk about things in a sterile environment, once removed from having to see what you are voting for.

    Why didn’t Newshub show the protesters placards? Surely this is the age of enlightenment and inclusiveness…at least that’s the bs I’m reminded of each day.

    https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/03/pro-life-protesters-signs-labelled-sick-by-justice-minister-andrew-little.html

    Reply
  3. NOEL

     /  4th March 2020

    How come this one goes through the select committe where there is citizen input and changes are made yet we have to vote on a draft bill on cannabis at the referendum which if accepted probably wont change?

    Click to access Cannabis%20Legalisation%20and%20Control%20Bill.pdf

    Reply
  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  4th March 2020

    I whole-heartedly agree with your summary, PG. The current law was already archaic when it was passed as a sop to the conservative Catholic electorate.

    Reply
  5. Duker

     /  4th March 2020

    Noyes from National were 30 against 25 for
    Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi
    Maggie Barry
    Simon Bridges
    Simeon Brown
    Gerry Brownlee
    Jacqui Dean
    Sarah Dowie
    Paulo Garcia
    Paul Goldsmith
    Nathan Guy
    Jo Hayes
    Harete Hipango
    Denise Lee
    Melissa Lee
    Agnes Loheni
    Tim Macindoe
    Todd McClay
    Todd Muller
    Alfred Ngaro
    Simon O’Connor
    Parmjeet Parmar
    Chris Penk
    Maureen Pugh
    Shane Reti
    Alastair Scott
    Nick Smith
    Louise Upston
    Michael Woodhouse
    Jonathan Young
    Lawrence Yule

    Labour noyes 9 to 37 for
    Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki
    Nanaia Mahuta
    Damien O’Connor
    Greg O’Connor
    Adrian Rurawhe
    Jenny Salesa
    Jamie Strange
    Rino Tirikatene
    Meka Whaitiri

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_Legislation_Bill_2019#Second_reading

    Such wonderful family supporting Mps like Sarah Dowie were against.
    Judith Collins was for , probably against what her conservative christian supporters would like , but then the Brethren probably have migrated to Bridges or Luxon already

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  4th March 2020

      Your point?

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  4th March 2020

        Weren’t you in favour of full knowledge a few hours ago ?
        Now you don’t want to know the names who oppose the legislation.
        Of course I’m looking for some two faced MPs.

        Reply
        • Corky

           /  4th March 2020

          ”Weren’t you in favour of full knowledge a few hours ago ?”

          No, I was hinting at politicians only knowing a issue on an intellectual level. The placards would have added emotion and reality.

          ‘Now you don’t want to know the names who oppose the legislation.’

          I just don’t see the point. Anyone could look these names up. That you list them can only mean you are trying to score some pro legislation point? Maybe hint at politicians who may be a little strange for being anti abortion in this woke country? I don’t know.

          ”Of course I’m looking for some two faced MPs.”

          Did you find any?

          But now that you mention those opposed, notice the large number of non Europeans against ( in relative terms to European)? Why do you think that is , Duker?

          Reply
  1. Abortion Legislation Bill passes Second Reading 81-39 — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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