6 Aug 2019

Abortion law reform: Obligation placed on health professionals - Little

10:35 am on 6 August 2019

The government is proposing to make it easier for people to have abortions but Justice Minister Andrew Little says criticism that it will allow people to have an abortion right up until birth is "absurd".

Minister of Justice Andrew Little speaks to media before heading into the debating chamber.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little speaks to media before heading into the debating chamber. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The bill legislation unveiled yesterday by Justice Minister, Andrew Little, will remove abortion from the Crimes Act, treating it instead as a health matter.

Under the legislation, people will have an automatic right to an abortion in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

After 20 weeks, a health practitioner will have to assess whether an abortion is appropriate, with regard to the person's physical and mental health.

Mr Little told Morning Report this places the obligation on the health practitioner.

"We when get to the point, or close to, foetal viability I think there are other policy considerations that arrive and I think that it's right that it's signalled in the legislation and that's what we've changed in the bill that we've introduced to Parliament."

He said there are very few abortions being undertaken at or just after the 20 week stage.

"We're talking about those very extreme cases where even at that stage of the pregnancy, the woman's health is potentially threatened or compromised or the foetus is as well."

He said it's absurd to think people could get an abortion right up until birth.

"In reality, the current regime technically allows that... that's actually not what happens, women don't go getting abortions at 32 weeks, 36 weeks or whatever."

The minister is proposing a stand-alone select committee be established to allow flexibility in the scheduling of when the select committee can meet and travel the country to hear submissions.

"Where we've got to in the drafting of the bill right now is that it achieves the objective of moving away from a criminal framework to get into a health framework, it's a significant improvement on what we have now for women making that choice and it has the best chance of getting maximum support in Parliament."

A clause in the current law stating foetal abnormality is not in itself grounds for abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be removed.

Kim Porthouse, a midwife and the Chair of the Down Syndrome Association, is concerned that the bill removes the requirement for people to be counselled before having an abortion.

"We actually recognise and respect that women have a choice, that it is their choice as to whether or not they decide to have a termination."

The association is concerned that people who find out their baby has down syndrome, but who had previously chosen to carry their pregnancy to term, would have a lack of counselling before being offered an abortion.

"We strongly believe that down syndrome in itself is not a reason for termination.

"This law reform... it's removing that clause that disability in itself is not a reason for termination, that would be where our concern is."

The association advocates for pregnant people to be offered value-based counselling in order to explore their options and values.

Samantha Murton, the president of the Royal New Zealand College of GPs, told Morning Report the bill will change the way GPs interact with women in the early stages of pregnancy.

GPs focus on continuity of care, following patients through their lifetimes, she said.

"For women who are in the early stage of pregnancy who are deciding on an abortion, that may not be their regular practitioner and that would be the change I can see happen."

She said the College will seek a broad range of views from its members and will be making a submission based on these views.

"We will encourage all of members to make a submission as well, individually."

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