WELLINGTON—The New Zealand government plans to decriminalize abortion and classify pregnancy termination as a health issue only, the government said on Monday in what would be the first major reform to abortion laws in more than four decades.
The legislation aims to liberalize the abortion laws of 1977, which legalized abortion up until 20 weeks of pregnancy if two doctors agreed that continuing the pregnancy would result in danger to the mother’s mental or physical health.
The current push to decriminalize abortion would allow women to bypass doctor approval before 20 weeks of pregnancy, although the proposed legislation fell short of some activists’ expectations to remove the 20 weeks restriction.
“It’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s so much better than the status quo. We have to give the government props for that,” said abortion rights group ALRANZ national president Terry Bellamak, who questioned the 20-week limit.
After 20 weeks, a pregnant woman would require one heath practitioner to reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate with regard to the woman’s physical and mental health, and well-being, the government said in a statement.
Pro-abortion activists have also argued that grounds on which abortion can be approved by the doctors are narrow and do not include reasons such as the inability to support a child and rape.
But Voice for Life spokesperson Kate Cormack told Radio New Zealand the proposed changes were “not actually going to help women” and were “counter-productive to women’s health.”
“So you only have a woman with one point of contact if she’s being coerced or is ambivalent and doesn’t have the right information,” Cormack said.
Justice Minister Andrew Little, who is in favor of the bill, said in a statement, “Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change.
“Safe abortion should be treated and regulated as a health issue; a woman has the right to choose what happens to her body.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to change the laws after winning a 2017 election, but the plans were delayed as lawmakers argued over the bill. It is scheduled to have its first reading on Thursday.
The legislation would allow for the creation of safe areas around specific abortion facilities to protect women from intimidation or harassment from anti-abortion activists.
Medical practitioners who object to providing abortion services on the grounds of conscience must inform the pregnant woman so that she can obtain services elsewhere, the bill said.
The bill would retain the criminal offense for abortions performed by those unqualified, those supplying illicit abortion-inducing substances, and those doing harm to the mother resulting in the death of a fetus.
New Zealand is not the only country debating abortion laws.
The Australian state of New South Wales is also currently debating a government co-sponsored bill to decriminalize abortion. It has also been delayed by conservative lawmakers who accused the government of attempting to ram the bill through Parliament before community consultations.
Ireland legalized abortion in a referendum last year, while South Korea’s high court overturned a ban on abortion in April.
The United States, which has some of the most liberal abortion laws, is now seeing some conservative-leaning states push heartbeat bills that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in cases of medical emergency or necessity.
By Praveen Menon. With additional reporting by Epoch Times staff.