The debate in New Zealand surrounding the legalization of abortion has erupted today in response to the New Zealand government introducing a bill that would decriminalize abortions nationwide, giving people the option to terminate a pregnancy up to twenty weeks. The bill was a significant part of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s campaign agenda, which was driven by largely feminist ideals.
The 1960s Crime Act in New Zealand criminalized abortion, making it extremely difficult for an individual to get an abortion. Current law requires that, in order to get an abortion approved, two doctors certify that the pregnancy would endanger the physical or mental health of the mother if it was not terminated.
Despite the major changes from current law that the bill proposes, abortion rights activists have been dissatisfied with the bill. Groups such as the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand and Family Planning have criticized the legislation for the twenty-week limit. Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond called the bill “a missed opportunity to put all women front and centre of the process.”
New Zealand’s restrictive abortion laws often lack international coverage due to the contrasts between the law and what occurs in society. Many individuals end up lying about their physical or mental health in order to get a medical professional to sign off on obtaining the procedure. It is much more difficult for people outside of the major cities to get around the law due to the significantly fewer amount of available doctors who will agree to sign off on an abortion. Over 2,500 abortion requests have been rejected in the last decade due to a lack of significant justification.
The United Nations considers legal abortion to be a human right, declaring in a 2016 joint statement that the “criminalization of abortion and failure to provide adequate access to services for termination of an unwanted pregnancy are forms of discrimination based on sex.” Around the world, approximately 50,000 women a year die because they are forced into unsafe abortions, making it one of the leading causes of maternal death.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 8/8/17; Stuff 4/16/19; New Zealand Herald 8/5/19; New York Time 8/5/19; BBC 8/15/19