14 Mar 2017

Govt accused of mixed messages on abortion

8:52 pm on 14 March 2017

Opposition parties have accused government ministers of trying to hold two positions at once on abortion laws.

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Pro-choice protesters - in response to anti-abortion protesters - outside an abortion clinic in Thames (file). Photo: Change.Org

The Abortion Supervisory Committee has called for the legislation to be updated to reflect modern society and will make its case to MPs on Thursday.

Under the current law, a woman can have an abortion only after two doctors agree that continuing the pregnancy would seriously harm her health.

Government ministers today lined up to support Prime Minister Bill English, who has said he would not support any relaxation of abortion laws.

Mr English, an active Catholic, is a long-time opponent of abortion.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett described herself as "pro-choice," but said reform was not on the government's agenda and did not need to be.

There are currently no members' bills in the ballot seeking to change abortion law, but any legislation of that sort is likely to come down to a conscience vote.

Ms Bennett would not say how she would vote on such a bill.

"I'm not going to hypothetically say how I might vote on a bill I haven't seen... It would depend what came up."

Justice Minister Amy Adams said women who needed abortions should be able to get them "when it's safe and appropriate to do so".

Abortion laws were not in urgent need of an overhaul, though, she said.

"They seem to be working - as far as I've seen - reasonably well," Ms Adams said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he "strongly supports" a woman's right to choose, but was happy with the law as it stood.

Existing law 'sexist' and 'archaic'

Labour and the Green Party both want the law to be reviewed and modernised, and say ministers are taking a contradictory position.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said they were wrong to say the law was fine as it was.

"They may have never been subjected to the process ... It actually undermines women. The process often requires women to be dishonest about the reasons why they need to get abortions."

It was unacceptable that women were subjected to such a process in the 21st century, Ms Turei said.

"It's an old law. It's written in a sexist way. And it embeds sexist ideas in that it suggest or assumes that women need to be controlled around their own fertility and their reproductive and sexual health."

Labour leader Andrew Little said the current law did not give women the right to choose as "there are hoops to jump through".

New Zealand First, meanwhile, is calling for a nationwide binding referendum on the issue.

ACT leader David Seymour said the current law was "archaic" and needed to be modernised.

"Sadly, our current laws are a charade. Nobody believes that 97 percent of women who have abortions are mentally ill, but that is what we are expected to believe according to official statistics," he said.

"The right thing to do is reform abortion law to reflect what actually happens: women exercise choice for their own reasons."

He also took a swipe at Labour and the Greens, accusing them of "grandstanding".

"Ninety-three of my colleagues are eligible to produce a bill that would modernise our abortion laws, but none have. Instead the ballot is filled with bills on everything from the wearing of military decorations to the length of Auckland's wharves."

Mr Seymour said he would put his own member's bill in the ballot if he did not already have a bill in there to legalise euthanasia.

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