Abortion is now legal in New Zealand following the passing of the Abortion Legislation Bill on the 18th of March.
The bill passed its third reading in Parliament with 68 votes to 51. Abortion will now be removed from the Crimes Act.
The bill also makes a number of changes to the way in which individuals can access abortion. People are able to self-refer to abortion services and pregant people will be able to self-determine whether to undergo abortion up to 20 weeks.
Previously, women were required to obtain the approval of two doctors before accessing abortion. The abortion had to be deemed necessary in order to protect the health of the pregnant person. Approximately 98% of abortions performed in New Zealand were attributed to the pregnancy posing a danger to the mental health of the pregnant person.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) has welcomed New Zealand’s abortion reform.
“This historic change will ensure that women are able to access and receive the health care that they need in a timely, professional, compassionate and respectful manner,” says RANZCOG Vice-President Dr John Tait. “I want to acknowledge the people who have worked tirelessly over many years, as well as those who have introduced and campaigned on this bill. Politicians, lawyers, doctors and consumer advocates put women at the centre. Their selfless dedication removes the stigma of criminalisation of a healthcare right from the next generation of women.”
A number of New Zealand organisations have supported the reform, including Family Planning New Zealand, the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand, the National Council of Women New Zealand and the New Zealand College of Midwives. They were amongst 35 organizations who published an open letter in support of the bill earlier this month, calling New Zealand’s former abortion laws “out of date and not fit for purpose”.
Those opposed to access to abortion in New Zealand have been disappointed by the pasisng of the bill, with Family First New Zealand claiming that “while the world and its leaders focused on responding to coronavirus, our government used parliamentary time to vote in an extreme abortion law.”
One provision that was not included in the act was the establishment of 150 metre safe zones around abortion clinics, which was lost in a voting mix-up. The safe zones would have meant that anti-abortion protesters would have been unable to harrass those seeking abortion or other medical treatment from these clinics.
People will still be able to access abortion services during the lockdown as the country heads into COVID-19 Alert Level Four, as healthcare is classified as an essential service.