Thursday, 6 November 2008

Policy Quicke: Abortion law reform

The status quo:
Cribbing from an earlier post by Deborah:
"...the working compromise reached in New Zealand has in effect allowed most women to access abortion when they need it. It has not quite been abortion on demand, but close enough. For people unfamiliar with New Zealand law, the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 allows women access to abortion on a variety of grounds, including injury to a woman's mental health. Women have to get two abortion consultants (doctors) to certify that an abortion is needed, but by-and-large, most women have been able to do so. The "two consultants" and "mental health" provisions have provided sufficient barriers to abortion to keep the right-to-lifers if not satisfied, at least at bay, and the practical effect has been to allow women to have abortions."
However with the recent successful court action taken by Right to Life NZ, a High Court Judge has cast doubt on the legality of some of the abortions certified on mental health grounds. The current law stands of course, but there may be a tightening up of this particular area, which could see a substantial restriction on access to legal abortions, depending on how any changes happen in a practical sense. Even without these changes the reality for some women seeking an abortion is that it is far from available "on demand" currently, and there are still significant hoops to jump through for all.

Abortion Services in NZ has a good rundown of the law as it stands, as well as providing access to information about abortion services throughout the country.

I'm no expert on the history of our abortion law, and I'm very aware that at least one of our writers and probably many of our readers are. So I'm going to tap to this brief timeline of the history of our abortions laws at ALRANZ.

Party positions for the 2008 Election:
Act: Couldn't find anything in their Health section and nothing else on their 20 Point Plan seemed to relate (no Women's policy on website)

Alliance: "...adopt the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s recommendation that all medical practitioners may become certifying consultants for termination purposes."

Family: "...Seek legal status for the unborn child ... Review current practice and procedure around abortions to determine whether the original intent of the Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion Act is being achieved and complied with, with regards to the right to life of the unborn child. Provide mothers with a genuine and meaningful range of alternatives to abortion, such as adoption and effective support services to continue with pregnancy, birth and early childhood. Implement a thorough education programme for mothers contemplating abortion, including viewing a scan of baby in the womb, to be fully and fairly informed of the nature and impact of abortion on their physical and emotional wellbeing. Require parental knowledge and consent for child/teen abortion procedures (Amendment to the Care of Children Act)."

Greens: "Review abortion services to ensure equity of access for women throughout New Zealand." (2005 Women's Policy, they do not appear to have updated it for 2008)

This is in their Family policy: "Require parents/guardians be informed and give consent for girls under sixteen seeking an abortion. Provide balanced counselling and information to all women considering an abortion." And then this is in their Health policy, under the sub-section heading The Unborn Child: "Support a review of current practice to prevent abuse of the present Abortion laws. It is clear the current law is not being correctly applied and that we effectively have abortion on demand, rather than limiting it to women with genuine health problems. (17,732 abortions performed in 2006-7 represent approximately 21% of all pregnancies.) Insist that balanced counselling and full information must be supplied to all women considering an abortion. Insist that post–operative counselling must be easily available. Insist that consent is obtained from a legal guardian when a girl is under 16 years of age. Encourage adoption as an alternative to abortion." And finally we have their response to Question 4 of our election survey, which relates to abortion.

Labour: Like National, Labour's response to our survey was that it is a matter for the individual MP, however they did also state that they did indicate they support the current law on reproductive rights (not just abortion). No mention of abortion on their campaign website.

Libertarianz: No recent mention of abortion on their website. Richard McGrath (number 2 on their party list) stated in his response to our survey "... Libertarianz would make abortion on demand legal up to 24 weeks gestation, possibly later. A woman’s body belongs to her, no-one else. We don’t believe there is a ‘right’ to contraception or any other sort of health care, as it implies that someone could therefore be forced to fund and provide that care. A woman who finds herself pregnant has sole discretion about whether she gets an abortion..."

Maori Party: No specific policy. In their party response to our survey they stated "... decisions around reproduction rights are decisions for whanau to make. The second is that families should have real choice in making decisions on reproduction..."

Could not find anything in their health policy, and the National party response to our election survey tends to indicate they don't have a party view?

NZ First: No mention in policy. Current MP Doug Woolerton's response to our survey indicated he thinks the current law is ok.

Pacific*: "Remove current policy of Abortion on Demand."

Progressives: Their website was down when I was writing this. The Progressive party response to the relevant question from our survey says they think the current law is ok, and goes on to state: "The Progressive Party stance on this issue is based on the recognition that pregnancy termination is a highly personal issue. We support choice because we do not want to return to the days of highly dangerous illegal backstreet abortions and consider that the only real alternative to this is a free, legal and accessible service, and the provision of free contraceptives. ... On the associated question of abortions for girls without parental knowledge, the Progressive Party considers that on the rare occasions when a girl under the age of sixteen has an abortion without parental knowledge or consent this is on the basis of professional medical and clinical judgement. We prefer that such judgements should be made at that level and we would not support an amendment proposed by some lobby groups to the Care of Children Act giving parents a right of veto in such circumstances."

RAM: "...access to safe abortions for women who do not want to be forced into motherhood"

UnitedFuture: No mention in policy. Various responses from individual candidates in our survey index.


ALRANZ, the Abortion Law Reform Association, have stated that they consider the Green party policy is the "most favourable" to their pro-choice position, and that Labour and Act are parties more in favour of reform than National, NZ First or the Maori Party.

As this is so often a conscience issue for individual MPs (i.e. they get a "free" vote, determined without party whipping) you may be interested in the responses of various candidates, and parties, to our election survey. Question 3 is the one on reproductive rights, including abortion.

This is a feminist blog. As you'd expect, we've written rather a lot about the pivotal issue of a woman's right to choose, and to control her own body. And no doubt there will be more to come!

A full index of our policy quickie posts to date can be found here.

*I haven't included the Pacific party previously, as searches for a website proved fruitless. Today I received a flyer from them in our local paper, which included their website address, so I'm able to include them in this one.

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