Friday, 20 September, 2019

New Zealand to decriminalize abortion laws, critics say bill falls short

Under a proposed new law women in New Zealand a woman will have access to an abortion until 20 weeks pregnancyMore Under a proposed new law women in New Zealand a woman will have access to an abortion until 20 weeks pregnancyMore
Patty Aguilar | 05 August, 2019, 11:06

In practice, this means women have to convince two doctors the birth of the child would put them in physical or mental danger.

New Zealand plans to decriminalize abortion and treat it is as a health issue, the government said on Monday in the first major reform to abortion laws in more than four decades that some activists said fell short of expectations.

There would also now be the power for the state to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities, on a case by case basis.

All three models would remove it from the Crimes Act, but they differed in what the new model would entail.

This piece of legislation would be treated as a conscience issue, allowing MPs to vote individually rather than along party lines.

The legislation aims to modernize abortion laws in place since 1977 and proposes that a woman should have access to abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy. Before 20 weeks, no test would be required. "It's time for this to change", mentioned Little in an announcement.

Government figures show there were about 13,000 abortions in New Zealand past year and only 57 took place after 20 weeks' pregnancy.

Abortion law to be modernised in line with other countries, meaning New Zealand women won't have to jump through hoops to end a pregnancy.

But the Commission said that a majority of professional bodies, abortion service providers and health practitioners had not recommended safe areas, saying that the problem was isolated and infrequent at the moment.

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.

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Ensure that health practitioners advise women of the availability of counselling services if they are considering an abortion or have had an abortion, although counselling will not be mandatory. "Overall, this is a huge step forward and quite an achievement", Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ president Terry Bellamak said. "It's a good start".

They also agreed there is no need for arbitrary legal requirements. A baby could be aborted after 20-weeks as long as the health practitioner who intends to perform the abortion considered that the abortion was "appropriate in the circumstances".

However, Bellamak questioned the 20-week limit.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa called the proposed safe zones "reactive rather than proactive" due to it being zoned on a case-by-case basis.

"Does this mean providers and patients must suffer actual harassment, intimidation, or injury before they can apply to the minister for a safe area?"

The good parts were full decriminalisation; the ability to self-refer to an abortion service and bypass Global Positioning System; no special licence required over and above what other health clinics need; and qualified health practitioners who were not doctors could provide the service.

"The test will be whether the restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are related and proportional to the objective of allowing people safe abortion", Seymour said.

"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.

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".

She would need to prove to the physician the "the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman's physical and mental health and wellbeing".

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