'It's not OK women have waited this long' for abortion law reform - Marama Davidson

"It's not OK that women have waited this long", for change to the law around abortion, says Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, "but we are finally going to get something sorted".

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Abortion is currently in the Crimes Act in New Zealand, and Government is looking at how to make it a health issue. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as Justice Minister Andrew Little revealed last week abortion law reform announcements would be "within weeks as opposed to months".

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Andrew Little said "there's been work you’d expect to happen within government". Source: Q+A

The Government is looking at whether to move abortion from the Crimes Act to the Health Act, to see it treated as a health issue.

NZ Herald reported in 2018 Mr Little expected to have legislation going through Parliament early this year. The Government have still not yet released its bill on abortion reform. As it is a conscience issue, MPs are set to vote individually rather than as a party. 

Ms Davidson said the mandate for reform "had been loud and clear". 

"We're going to get something done, we're going to see change - It's not OK that women have waited this long, but we are finally going to get something sorted.

Ms Davidson said she did not want to pre-empt consultations about abortion law reform, but she felt "really positive we're going to get something done". 

When asked about the delay of reform legislation, Ms Davidson said: "All three political parties are involved in conversations, work on every sentence, every Cabinet paper together.

"We have to come together, work out and arrive at something. That can take time.

"No, woman should not have had to wait this long, but I'm please we're going to make some progress on this."

She said there were "good options up for consultation". The Green Party's policy is to decriminalise abortion and terminations after 20 weeks would only be allowed according to current practice.

The law

Last November, the Law Commission released its briefing paper on how abortion could be placed as a health issue. The briefing paper also proposes changes to the law by repealing abortion from the Crimes Act.

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The report recommends options for making abortion a health issue instead of criminal. Source: 1 NEWS

The current rules for abortion under 20 weeks are in cases of serious danger to life, physical health or mental health, incest and foetal abnormality. Sexual violation is a factor that can be taken into account. A person needs two certifying doctors to provide certificates to obtain an abortion, and unbiased counselling must be undertaken prior.

The debate

In May, National MP Alfred Ngaro said Kiwis told him they were worried about abortion law reform. "Has any woman actually been made to feel like a criminal? Absolutely not," he said. 

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The National MP confirmed he is contemplating creating his own party. Source: 1 NEWS

He described the number of abortions in New Zealand as a "tragedy".

"Why is there 13,000, this year alone [in the year ended December 2017], abortions?" he said. 

In response to these comments, Sarah (who did not want her real named used), a 38-year-old married mother of "one rambunctious and adored child", told 1 NEWS she sent a letter to MPs after her abortion.

In it she wrote: "I thought of myself as the kind of woman who would never, ever have an abortion. By no means a staunch opponent of safe and legal choice, abortion was simply not ever going to be MY choice. But in 2016, something catastrophic happened to our planned and very wanted pregnancy. I had to swallow my pride and choose the unthinkable, end my pregnancy to save my life."

"On top of our crushing loss, society stigmatizes my family, cursing us with moral failure. They spit cruel words like murderer and baby-killer. Some have voiced opinions that I don't deserve the child I have, whilst others have felt it just to tell me that I should be in jail for life.

"The lifesaving procedure that I needed sits within the crimes act and I feel like a criminal, a criminal who has been let off for good behaviour, having utilised this healthcare service to preserve maternal life. These legal details matter, they fuel the fires of cultural condemnation and weigh heavy on an already difficult family burden."

In October last year, TVNZ1's Q+A hosted a debate by abortion practitioner Dr Alison Knowles and Voice for Life advocate Kate Cormack.

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Abortion practitioner Dr Alison Knowles and Voice for Life advocate Kate Cormack debate the issue of New Zealand’s abortion law on TVNZ1’s Q+A. Source: Q+A

Dr Knowles said the current placement of abortion in the Crimes Act "may not always be preventing women from getting abortions, but it is preventing health practitioners from following evidence-based best practice". 

Ms Cormack said she could not endorse any of the models the Law Commission provided. 

"They're not actually what New Zealanders are asking for. This really needs to be examined broadly, extensively... We know there's a lot of dimensions to the abortion system in New Zealand than just the legalities.

"When we're talking about abortion, we're talking about something that's completely different to any other health matter, any other medical procedure because it involves the life of two human beings and the abortion is the ending of one of those human being's lives."