27 Oct 2018

Abortion law reform options an improvement - advocate

12:14 pm on 27 October 2018

The Justice Minister says it's too soon to say whether MPs will vote to change abortion laws.

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Photo: 123RF

The Law Commission has recommended decriminalising abortion and making it simpler for a woman to get a procedure.

The minister, Andrew Little, asked the Law Commission in February for options on changing the 40-year-old law, and it reported back yesterday. Mr Little will now consult with his government partners and take a paper to Cabinet.

Any changes to abortion laws would be a conscience matter for MPs.

Mr Little told Newshub Nation he could not yet say whether there would be enough support to change the law.

He said some Labour MPs will be voting against change.

"Equally I've spoken to National MPs who say they are keen to support a move, they want to see what the detail looks like, so there's a lot of work to do before that work happens. In the end it'll be the collective will of Parliament or enough MPs in Parliament to make a decision."

Mr Little said he does not want extra safeguards in abortion laws to protect against mothers who want to choose the gender of their child.

The Law Commission has recommended that abortion be taken out of the Crimes Act, and made a health matter.

The director of the group Family First, Bob McCroskrie, disagrees.

He said the Law Commission was not given much time to come up with recommendations and its proposals removed safeguards against certain abortions, such as choosing to abort based on gender, or a woman getting an abortion under coercion.

But Mr Little said the system to gain permission for an abortion should not include checklists for possible reasons.

He told Newshub Nation that women and their doctors should be trusted to make the right decision.

"Actually women are quite capable of weighing up the variety of issues ... what will be weighing on their minds will be moral issues, as well as their mental and physical health, for other women it'll be a set of other issues, I mean women are quite capable of making these judgements for themselves."

Mr Little said opinion polling shows there is public support for change.

"A poll carried out by Family First of all organisations showed actually that the majority of New Zealanders support the idea of access to abortion - so people do want it.

"The submission process for an exercise like the one that the Royal Commission carried out is going to attract with a particular interest in it."

Pro-choice advocates are happy with proposed changes to the laws on abortion, but still hold concerns about the options presented to the government.

The Law Commission has advised the government to take abortion out of the Crimes Act, and make it a health matter.

It has three potential models.

The Abortion Law Reform Association's president, Terry Bellamak, said all three options are an improvement.

Ms Bellamak said the first, Model A, delivers everything the government promised.

She said Model B would leave the final decision about whether a woman could have an abortion in the hands of the doctor.

"The worst option of course is going to be Model B because it leaves the final decision whether or not a person can get an abortion in the hands of a health practitioner who will provide the abortion and that practitioner has to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances."

The Green Party is also welcoming the proposals to decriminalise abortion.

A Green MP, Jan Logie, said her party has long called for abortion reform.

"This law is 40 years old, it no longer reflects our contemporary values and it creates inequalities and unnecessary delays in access to decent health care."

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