By Arun Srivastava
AUCKLAND: The New Zealand Government this week unveiled its bill for reform of abortion laws. Earlier the political leadership of the country was in favour of having a referendum on the issue of decriminalisation of the Abortion law, as it apprehended that some of the political and social forces might oppose the move but in a significant move the political leadership closed its rank to have the law amended.
In a major health care reforms the New Zealand government is determined to overturn decade of hypocrisy by removing abortion from the Crimes Act and recognising it as a health issue. The first reading of the bill in the Parliament was passed with 94 MPs in favour and 23 against out of total 120 members with three absenting from the voting.
The bill still has two more readings to complete before coming law. It will now be sent to a special select committee where the public will have their say on it. Under the new law women will be able to self-refer to a clinic. They will not have to pass an arbitrary statutory test, nor will they have to tell a white lie about their current of future mental health as under the status quo.
With this change the government is also committed to boost the rise of the population. Abortion rates are also in decline. In 2007, New Zealand had a rate of 20.1 procedures per 1000 women of child bearing age, this had reduced to 13.7 procedures per 1000 women by 2017.
In 2017, while only 20 per cent of abortions in New Zealand were medical abortions, in European countries including England, France, and the Nordics, medical abortions make up more than 60 per cent of the total.
The bill would modernise New Zealand’s abortion laws, bringing them into line with many other developed countries. Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change.
This move is being held as a conscience vote, with MPs voting individually, rather than along party lines. In fact this is being held a vital gain for the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who made her coalition partners along with the opposition to agree to the government’s initiative.
The most significant change in the law would see the current requirement for women trying to get abortions to get clearance from two doctors on physical or mental health grounds dropped, in favour of open access until 20 weeks’ pregnancy.
For some times the rights bodies and social activists have been agitating for reform in the law and decriminalise it. Besides more than 200 people marching Parliament, a petition posted on the Parliament website in May gained 37,856 signatures before it was presented in July asking MPs to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. The safe areas seem to be reactive rather than proactive, because the regulations are made on a case by case basis.
The Law Commission Report on which reforms are based, notes that abortion is “common” in New Zealand, with rates that are more or less in line with those in other countries. Roughly 30 per cent of women will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the Abortion Supervisory Committee.
The opposition the Act was primarily for the reason that it denied the right over their bodies and also placing abortion in the Crimes Act makes people feel like criminals. It also places New Zealand out of step with best medical practice.
Surprisingly while there been a demand for reforming abortion law, the number of abortions carried out in New Zealand has been steadily decreasing for a decade. In 2007, 18,382 were recorded, a rate of 20.1 procedures per 1000 women of child-bearing age. This had reduced to 13,285 or 13.7 procedures per 1000 women by 2017. The decline has been driven by younger women, particularly those under 24.
Probably the rise in demand for change is sure to the increase in the number of women parliamentarians. In 1977 there were just four, there are now 46.
There are some places in New Zealand where women going to get an abortion are being harassed and intimated, are being confronted by anti-abortion protesters with their literature. No doubt it is inappropriate to do so. Around 13,000 abortions were performed last year, according to Statistics New Zealand. Medical practitioners who didn’t comply would face consequences from their medical bodies, rather than under the Crimes Act. (IPA Service)