Should abortion be a health issue, rather than in the Crimes Act? Q+A debate

The possible move for abortion to be treated as a health issue rather than a crime on has become a hotly debated topic.

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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

It comes after the Law Commission released its briefing paper last week on what abortion law reform could look like. It sets out three alternative models [see below] if abortion is to be moved from the Crimes Act to the Health Act. 

The full paper can be read here. 

On TVNZ1's Q+A, abortion practitioner Dr Alison Knowles and Voice for Life advocate Kate Cormack debated the move and Law Commission recommendations. 

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". 

She said Model A from the Law Commission's briefing paper was the preferred option.

"It would allow us to meet women's needs and provide prompt care and follow the best possible practices, rather than expecting women to jump through legal loop holes which don't actually improve health outcomes."

Voice for Life's Kate 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."

Host Corin Dann asked why the decision of an abortion should be left up to two doctors, instead of leaving it up to the woman.

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Abortion practitioner Dr Alison Knowles and Voice for Life advocate Kate Cormack join Corin Dann to debate the issues. Source: Q+A

"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."

Dr Knowles said that "abortion care is an integral part of women's health care and the decision as to whether or not to end a pregnancy rightly sits with the woman who is pregnant". 

Law Commission's models of possible abortion law reform

Model A - the decision of abortion would be made by a woman in consultation with a health practitioner, and there would be no statutory test. 

Model B - a statutory test would be needed, however it would be part of health legislation rather than in the Crimes Act. It would need a health practitioner who was intending to perform the abortion to "reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing". 

Model C - would see pregnancies of less than 22 weeks to be the same as Model A, and for pregnancies more than 22 weeks it would be the same as Model B. 

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.