2 Nov 2017

No abortion changes until 'well into next year'

7:22 am on 2 November 2017

Any overhaul of the country's abortion laws won't happen until well into next year - at the very earliest, the Labour Party says.

Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little said a full review of the law would take place before any changes were made. Photo: RNZ

During a Newshub election debate, Jacinda Ardern promised to remove abortion from the Crimes Act if she became prime minister.

However, the policy does not appear in the Labour Party's 100-day plan.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the government remained committed to modernising the law.

"It's a Labour commitment. We said we would do that. We'll have to work with our coalition partners on a programme for that."

Mr Little said he was taking advice on a potential timeframe, but a full review of the legislation would first take place.

"And then we'll see what the legislative programme looks like and get that on track as soon as we can."

But he cautioned it would be "well into next year" before any changes.

In New Zealand, abortion is governed by the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.

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

The Green Party also wants to remove abortion from the Crimes Act; New Zealand First's policy is to hold a nationwide binding referendum on the issue.

National Party leader Bill English, a practicing Catholic, is an opponent of abortion and does not support any relaxation of the law.

But Mr Little said he believed there was "general consensus" that the legislation needed to be looked at.

"The idea that any women who has an abortion is committing a criminal act is a heinous thing. That is not right."

However, he said it was important to hold a review first to ensure any changes were sensible.

"For example, somebody who assaults a pregnant woman and as a result, a viable fetus dies.

"You might want to have that crime there, because you want to flag that that's a more serious offence than a mere assault on a woman."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs