Abortion in New Zealand

Abortion in New Zealand

Abortion in New Zealand is currently legal in cases where the mother faces a danger to her life, physical or mental health, or if there is a risk of the fetus being handicapped, in the event of the continuation of her pregnancy. Regulations in New Zealand require that abortions after 12 weeks gestation be performed in a 'licensed institution,' which is generally understood to be a hospital. Abortions must be approved by two doctors — one of whom must be a gynaecologist or obstetrician—and may be subject to counselling.

New Zealand abortion law today

The core legislation pertaining to is the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, and it enacted parallel specifications through amendment of the Guardianship Act 1968 (retained in the Care of Children Act 2004) and Section 187A of the Crimes Act 1961. These provisions enable women to undergo confidential medical consultation after they have seen two certifying consultant medical practitioners.

Current New Zealand law allows for abortions to be performed for the following reasons, providing the abortion is approved by two certifying consultants:

* to save the life of the woman
* to preserve the physical health of the woman
* to preserve the mental health of the woman
* foetal impairment
* in cases of incest

Other factors which may be considered, but are not in themselves grounds for abortion, are:
* cases of rape -- because rape is a term with unclear boundaries
* certain social factors (e.g., the girl's age in a teenage pregnancy)

Abortion is not allowed under any circumstances after 20 weeks of pregnancy except to save the mother's life.

As the annual statistics for the Abortion Supervisory Committee have repeatedly noted, mental health grounds are the predominant grounds for most certified abortions in New Zealand. The high numbers of abortions in New Zealand for mental health grounds have led pro-lifers to express concerns that the mental health exception is being used to allow abortion on demand. [cite press release|title=Abortion Supervisory Committee Deserves Criticism|publisher=Family First Lobby|date=2008-06-10 |url=http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0806/S00090.htm |accessdate=2008-06-10|quote=The Committee has ignored the original intention of parliament and because of their lack of supervision and inaction, this has effectively led to abortion on demand.]

Abortion Supervisory Committee

The Abortion Supervisory Committee collects statistics on the numbers of terminations performed each year, and for what reason under the terms of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977. It reported that there was 18,511 abortions performed in New Zealand in 2003. According to 2003 figures by Statistics New Zealand, there were 21.0 abortions per 1000 women. This equates to roughly 247 per 1000 known pregnancies. Split amongst ethnicity in 2002 the highest rates were amongst Asian women (374), followed by Māori (245), Pacific Island women (243) and European women (209).

New Zealand's abortion rate (number of abortions per women aged 15-44 years) is slightly below Australia's (22.2), and the United States (21.3), but above Japan's (13.8), Finland and Scotland's (both 10.9) and many European countries.

Since 2003 abortion clinics have been able to administer medical abortions. (Taking mifegyne/mifepristone to cause the embryo to dislodge from the uterine wall, and a prostaglandin supplement to expel the remains.)

Controversy over abortion law in New Zealand today

In New Zealand today, abortion is not a major political issue, and since the 1970s most of the abortion related lobby groups from both sides of the political spectrum have largely demobilised. Currently in New Zealand, the main pro-choice lobby group is Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ), which favours the complete legalisation of abortion in New Zealand, but if that does not occur wants to have socio-economic reasons made a reason for obtaining a legal abortion. The main pro-life lobby groups are Right to Life, [http://www.fli.org.nz Family Life International] , which provides practical support to women in crisis-pregnancy so they can keep their babies, post-abortion help and education on pro-life issues, and Voice for Life, which favours reforming New Zealand abortion law to make it more restrictive, and in recent years has lobbied for a parental consent law, which would require a girl under 16 years of age to obtain the consent of her parents before having an abortion. Voice for Life has also tried to lobby parliament to alter the composition of the Abortion Supervisory Committee in the hope of limiting the number of abortions performed on mental health grounds.

In 2004, Parliament debated legislation related to amendments to the Care of Children Act 2004, which would have required a girl under 16 years of age to notify her parents before having an abortion. Currently, no parental notification or consent laws are in place for women under 18 seeking abortions. Conservative National MP for Clevedon Judith Collins was the primary mover of this amendment, supported by the pro-life lobby group Voice for Life/SPUC.

She was opposed by ALRANZ, the New Zealand Medical Association and New Zealand College of General Practitioners. A NZ Herald Digipoll showed that 71% of New Zealanders believed parents should be informed about whether or not their child was to have an abortion, with 60% believing this should be mandatory by law. This "parental notification" legislation was heavily defeated, as the New Zealand Medical Association and New Zealand College of General Practitioners objected that the abrogation of medical confidentiality would harm pregnant incest survivors, and/or those within similar dysfunctional families and abusive parents. Another pro-life amendment was also defeated. It was designed to help victims of incest by requiring the Abortion Supervisory Committee to collect statistics on how many abortions come from pregnancies caused by incest, and what happened to those young women after their abortion. Again, Parliament rejected this on the basis of abrogation of medical confidentiality for no evidence-based purpose. Voice for Life cited material from the US National Right to Life Committee and other US pro-life groups, while the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand similarly used material from the National Abortion Rights Action League and other US pro-choice organisations.

In the current 48th New Zealand Parliament, Kiwi Party list MP Gordon Copeland had a private members bill, the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Informed Consent) Amendment Bill, in the ballot. It was based on an abandoned Australian Capital Territory 'informed consent' piece of legislation, since repealed, and was defeated on a voice vote in Parliament.

Another pro-life group, Right to Life has launched a court case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee, accusing it of not sufficiently regulating abortion by allowing broad interpretation of the mental health exception. However, the Abortion Supervisory Committee has appealed this to the New Zealand Court of Appeal after a High Court decision supported some of Right to Life New Zealand's points.

History of abortion in New Zealand

Abortion was criminalized in New Zealand by the British Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, adopted in New Zealand in 1866. The 1893 Criminal Code Act made the punishments for illegal abortion a maximum of seven years imprisonment for the women and life for the doctor. Illegal abortions continued to occur, however, and it was generally understood that abortions performed in good faith to protect the life of the woman or her mental or physical health would not lead to prosecution. The 1936 Committee of Enquiry headed by D.G. McMilland reported that one in five pregnancies in New Zealand resulted in an induced abortion. Some pregnant women died, were injured or infected, or abused by practitioners of illegal abortion. In the 1940s, the discovery of antibiotics made infection less likely, which also meant some doctors were more likely to assist.

Public debate increased following the legalization of abortion in Britain in 1967 and in South Australia in 1969. The legalization of abortion in Australia enabled New Zealand women who could afford to travel to have abortions in Australia. After a Royal Commission on New Zealand abortion law, Parliament passed the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act of 1977. The law caused much confusion over the demarcation of certain restrictions as to when an abortion would be legal, and led to a series of amendments that were passed in the following year to clarify the Parliament's intentions.

In late 1981, a pro-life doctor, Melvyn Wall, at Taranaki Base Hospital did tests on a 15 year old girl for a suspected heart murmur. The tests did not find a heart murmur, but they did reveal that the girl was pregnant. The girl and her parents agreed to give the baby up for adoption, and the girl told Dr Wall that she didn't want an abortion which would involve "killing the baby." Follow up care was arranged. Later, the family doctor referred the girl for an abortion which was authorised by two certifying consultants on the grounds continuation of pregnancy would endanger the girl's mental health. Dr. Wall challenged the doctors' approval of the abortion. In January 1982 the case went before the High Court, and in November to the Court of Appeal which both ruled against Dr Wall, arguing that the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act contained no legal definition of an embryo or fetus, and thus, Wall could not 'represent' it, and that the certifying consultants descisons were beyond review, meaning certifying consultants can act in bad faith knowing their descison will not be challenged . Fact|date=February 2007 The girl had the abortion. In 1983, pro-lifers lobbied Parliament to try to pass a pro-life private members bill, the Status of the Unborn Child Bill. It was defeated 48-30.

The Status of the Unborn Child Bill caused a schism within the New Zealand pro-life movement. Christchurch SPUC (now Right to Life New Zealand) was expelled from SPUC (now Voice for Life) for continuing to advocate passage of the Status of the Unborn Child Bill, when National SPUC had decided that there was insufficient support to do so within Parliament, and had decided on incremental anti-abortionist tactics (see below)

In the eighties, New Zealand pro-lifers frequently followed the lead of their United States counterparts. For example, Chicago-based conservative pro-life activist Joseph Scheidler visited New Zealand in the mid-eighties, prompting the formation of namesake "Pro-Life Action Groups" in Christchurch and Wellington. In the late eighties, conservative pro-life activist Mary O'Neill was largely responsible for importing Randall Terry's direct action "Operation Rescue" pro-life tactic to New Zealand, but it faced resistance. In Christchurch and Wellington, pro-choice activists mobilised against Operation Rescue New Zealand, and ultimately, family stresses, heavy fines and lack of more conservative pro-life support ended the existence of Operation Rescue (its parent organisation is now known as Operation Save America).

Thereafter, Parliament served as an occasional venue for debates about the composition of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, when appointments and expiry dates for its membership have come and gone. Unlike the United States, abortion access has steadily expanded, and both pro-choice and pro-life groups have demobilised. While abortion has not been wholly decriminalised as ALRANZ (the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand) wishes, nor is abortion access limited.

In 1999 Graeme White was found guilty and jailed for tunneling into an abortion clinic in a failed attempt to blow it up. [cite news|url=http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4162382a6530.html|title=Search for missing swimmer called off|last=Steward|first=Ian|coauthors=NZPA|date=2007-08-13|publisher=The Press|accessdate=2008-10-01]

In April 2003 Justice Durie clarified parts of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 relating to "performing" medical abortions so women who wish to have medical abortions must take medications in a licenced facility but don't need to remain there between taking the two sets of tablets which are taken 48 hours apart. Women also don't need to stay in the facility until the expulsion and death of the fetus completes the abortion.

External links and references

External inks

* [http://www.stats.govt.nz/people/health/abortions.htm Statistics New Zealand - abortion statistics] (also has the current laws)
* McMillan D G (1937). "Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Various Aspects of the Problem of Abortion in New Zealand", Government Printer, Wellington.
** [http://www.ibiblio.org/ahkitj/section27/#abortion-1937 facsimile scan] at ibiblio.org
*http://www.alranz.org Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (pro-choice)
*http://www.voiceforlife.org.nz Voice for Life (pro-life)
*http://www.right-to-life.org Right to Life New Zealand (pro-life)
*http://www.life.org.nz/abortionaboutabortionnzhistory7.htm (for information about the Dr Wall case)
*http://www.abortion.gen.nz/information/history.html (for information about the history of Abortion law in New Zealand)

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