Andrew Little on abortion law reform

Fixing New Zealand’s abortion laws is currently being considered by the Government. Currently the laws are effectively not fit for purpose, being largely ignored but requiring women to make extreme claims.

Andrew Little: “Hard to gauge where the numbers are at at the moment, but I’m confident that we will get a change.”

It will be a conscience vote so won’t be subject to coalition arrangements, but what goes before Parliament will be decided by Cabinet which means Labour and NZ First ministers.

Little: “I’ve already expressed my support for one of the Law Commission recommendations, which was option C.”

  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

I also support Model C.

Edit: After some thought and a discussion (with a woman) I question whether 22 weeks is an appropriate cut off point. 15-18 weeks for effectively abortion on demand gives women (and girls) plenty of time to decide. If they haven’t decided by then it may be prudent to require a health practitioner to be more involved in the decision.

The chances of a foetus surviving at 22 weeks is minimal – according to studies between 2003 and 2005 the chances of a foetus surviving:

  • 21 weeks and less: 0%
  • 22 weeks:  0-3%
  • 23 weeks: 0-5%
  • 24 weeks: 20-35%
  • 25 weeks: 50-70%

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_viability

In a Scientific Impact Paper published in February 2014:

‘[t]here is international consensus that at 22 weeks of gestation there is no hope of survival, and that up to 22+6 weeks is considered to be the cut-off of human viability.’

Abortion law reform has also been a sticking point with one of your coalition partners, NZ First. Where’s that at?

Yep, again, good discussions. It’s got to go through the process. It’s a little bit further behind the process than the cannabis-referendum-question issue.

So when can we see abortion removed from the Crimes Act?

Well, again, once Cabinet makes the decision — which, again, I expect will be in the next few weeks; it’ll be, you know, sooner rather than later than that — then we go through the process of legislation. And that’ll be depending on the timetabling in the house and what support it gets. It’s a conscious issue, so MPs from all sides of the house will have a chance to vote for it if they support it or vote against it if they don’t. Hard to gauge where the numbers are at at the moment, but I’m confident that we will get a change.

So where are you personally? Where are you personally now? Do you support the choice of a woman to abort up to 20 weeks?

I certainly… I’ve already expressed my support for one of the Law Commission recommendations, which was option C. Obviously, there’s details around that that are still up for negotiation. I’m confident that we will have a piece of legislation that will herald a significant change, but I can’t foretell what the house or Parliament collectively might decide or not.


Law Commission advice to the Minister of Justice (Little):

Publication date 26 October 2018

This ministerial briefing paper provides advice to the Minister of Justice on alternative approaches that could be taken in New Zealand’s abortion laws if the Government decides to treat abortion as a health issue.  It describes three alternative legal models:

  • Under Model A there would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed. The decision whether to have an abortion would be made by the woman concerned in consultation with her health practitioner.
  • Under Model B there would be a statutory test. The health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Regardless of which model may be preferred, the briefing paper sets out several other changes that could be made to align the law with a health approach to abortion. They include:

  • Repealing the current grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act.
  • Removing the requirement for abortions to be authorised by two specially appointed doctors called ‘certifying consultants’.
  • Repealing the criminal offences in the Crimes Act relating to abortion. Instead, other offences in the Crimes Act and health legislation that currently exist would protect women from unsafe abortions. If Model B or C is adopted, an additional offence could be introduced in health legislation for people who perform abortions that don’t meet the statutory test. In no case would the woman be subject to an offence.
  • Allowing women to access abortion services directly, rather than having to get a referral from a doctor as they do under the current law.
  • Removing the current restrictions around who may perform an abortion and where abortions must be performed. Instead, the provision of abortion services would be regulated by appropriate health bodies, the same as any other health care procedure.
  • Moving the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s oversight responsibilities to the Ministry of Health.
  • Requiring health practitioners who do not wish to provide health services in relation to abortion because of a conscientious objection to refer women to someone who can provide the service.

Note: the briefing paper refers to the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018 (Qld). The Bill was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 17 October 2018, shortly after the briefing paper was finalised for printing.

 

Input wanted on Abortion Law Reform

The Law Commission has an Abortion Law Reform website and are asking for input into a review of the current laws covering abortions which are not fit for purpose and are overdue for a decent tidy up).


Law Commission – Abortion Law reform

We are advising the Government on how the law could treat abortion as a health issue

The Government is considering how best to ensure New Zealand’s abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.

To do that, it has asked the Law Commission for advice on what alternative approaches could be taken in the law to align with a health approach.

Specifically, the Government has asked us to review the criminal aspects of abortion law, the grounds for abortion and the process for receiving abortion services.

This website explains the current law and the process for receiving abortion services.

We want to hear your views as we develop our advice to the Government. You can provide input until 5pm on 18 May 2018.

We will provide our advice to the Government in October 2018.

Tell us your views

You can provide input until 5pm on 18 May 2018.