11 Mar 2020

Labour shrugs after abortion clinic safe-zones vote misfire

6:45 pm on 11 March 2020

MPs were caught out in a verbal vote against abortion clinic safe zones last night, but Labour's Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little seem to want to just put it behind them.

Andrew Little speaks to media at parliament 30 April 2019

Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

MPs were caught off guard in the House last night, when they voted to remove abortion clinic safe zones from the Abortion Legislation Bill.

The legislation would remove abortion from the Crimes Act and, while much of the debate centred on concerns about access to late term abortions, it was the 150-metre safe zones that wreacked havoc.

In a strange turn of events it was too late by the time MPs discovered the amendment had been lost.

ACT leader David Seymour's proposal was voted for in two parts - the first, to remove the definition of a safe zone from the act, was narrowly voted down 59 votes to 56.

But when a vote was called for on a second part - removing all the legal provisions for safe zones - it passed on a verbal vote only.

Green Party MP Jan Logie and the bill's sponsor, Justice Minister Andrew Little, were among those surprised by what had happened.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to save face for the government today, saying nobody was at fault.

"There is no blame here, this was simply an outcome of democracy and process," she said.

It was not an ideal outcome for her though, as she was in favour of the safe zones.

"I would have preferred that those safe zones were in place ... but that hasn't been the result of the House in this debate and that's democracy."

Seymour was not at all surprised.

"I'm a libertarian - I've never had a great confidence in collectively making laws for millions of other people in a tiny room," he said.

"But that's the system we have and I do my best within the system."

He thought Little had given up on trying to reverse last night's blunder.

"I think the numbers are there to keep the amendment and keep the free speech spirit in the bill, and I think it's unlikely now there will be a procedure to reverse last night's events given the minister said he's not interested," Seymour said.

Little admitted today it could be a waste of time trying to do so.

"Well you've got to be sure to go through the procedural hoops to get there that you've got the numbers to do that and I'm not sure that they're there."

National Party leader Simon Bridges said the vote landed in the right place - firmly against safe zones.

"Well, I think the reality is we have a situation where the law already has provisions for that.

"So I'd question the necessity for this particular law, whether it adds anything, and I think also it's a symbolic issue, really, around freedom of speech," he said.

Logie was not happy.

"We're looking into that at the moment, obviously we're pretty disappointed at the error, so channeling that into trying to find a solution," she said.

Without Little's support it's unclear whether the Greens would even have the numbers to get it across the line.

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