22 May 2019

Abortion debate: Does Crimes Act make women feel like criminals?

11:31 am on 22 May 2019

National MP Alfred Ngaro says having abortion in the Crimes Act doesn't make women feel like criminals so no law change is necessary.

National MP Alfred Ngaro

National MP Alfred Ngaro Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

As the government considers options for law reform, more than 4000 people have signed a petition asking MPs to remove it from the Crimes Act.

The Law Commission has put forward three options for taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.

One leaves the decision entirely between the woman and her doctor, another requires a mental health assessment and third would only require such an assessment after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Cabinet has yet to consider any legislation, but any Bill would be a conscience vote for MPs.

Mr Ngaro said yesterday that change is unnecessary.

"There is a debate at the moment that's been had, and people are actually saying that this is not good enough. We don't believe what's happening.

"But here's the thing. Has any woman actually ever been made to feel like a criminal? Absolutely not. Those provisions have been there for some time."

National Party leader Simon Bridges doesn't agree with Mr Ngaro's choice of words but said he supported his MP's right to free speech.

"I wouldn't say what he's saying but I think what is important here is this is a conscience issue and people will have strong views. In terms of basic freedom of expression, if you like, I support that.

"Alfred's obviously a deeply devout religious man with very strong values and views on these things and that's what he's expressing."

Family Planning national nursing adviser Rose Stewart, who dealt with women seeking abortions for 30 years, said they absolutely felt criminalised.

"They feel very, very stigmatised and extremely worried about how they're going to be treated. And when they learn that abortion's still in the Crimes Act, extremely surprised that that could be a criminal for doing something.

"You do have to see two doctors who are authorised by the Department of Justice to be certifying doctors. And when you say that it just sounds really wrong, doesn't it.

A Voice for Life spokesperson Kate Cormack said that wasn't what she heard from women.

"Their experiences are ones of being rushed, coerced, not being informed before an abortion. None of them talk to us about the issue around it being in the Crimes Act."

She said removing it from the Crimes Act would minimise what abortion really was - the ending of a life.

An anti-abortion rally is planned outside Parliament next week, a protest Mr Ngaro endorsed despite organisers describing abortion as an "unholy Holocaust".

Mr Ngaro said he hadn't seen the phrase in the social media post, and regretted sharing it.

"What I would put in there in place of 'Holocaust', I'd put the word 'tragedy'".

The government's response to the Law Commission report is now nearly six months overdue.

There is no official word on when it will be going before Cabinet, though it is expected to be in the next few weeks.