Menu

Modernising our abortion laws

Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. It’s time for this to change.

The Government has proposed changes to New Zealand’s law to bring the regulation of abortion in line with other health services. This is about taking a balanced and moderate approach to abortion law reform.

Here’s what the Government is proposing, and what these changes will mean for New Zealanders.

Why do we need to change our current law?

Our abortion law is over forty years old, and at the moment, abortion is included in the Crimes Act – meaning it is the only medical procedure that is a crime in New Zealand.

The current law states that an abortion is only permitted if the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.

The Government’s Bill, if passed, will modernise New Zealand’s abortion laws and will mean abortion is treated like a health issue, not a crime.

A recent Newshub poll showed that 69.9% of New Zealanders wanted abortion to be decriminalised. The Bill takes a balanced approach to achieving this.

What does the Government want to change?

The Government has proposed several changes to modernise New Zealand’s abortion law. These include:

Changing how women can access abortion

Currently, pregnant women must get the authorisation of two specially appointed doctors before an abortion can happen. Under the proposed changes, a pregnant woman would be able to make the decision about abortion, in consultation with a suitably qualified health practitioner, until 20 weeks of a pregnancy. After that, a health practitioner would need to be satisfied that an abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, taking into account the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Removing abortion from the Crimes Act

Under the proposed changes, most of the criminal aspects of abortion law would be removed, and abortion would be treated as a health issue.

Ensuring safe access to healthcare facilities

Under the proposed changes, it would be possible to set up ‘safe access zones’ around the entrance of abortion service facilities, to prevent harm to pregnant women or health practitioners (for example, to protect them from intimidation by protestors). The Law Commission report did not deem safe access zones necessary at this time, but recognised there may be a need for them in the future. The Bill aims to prioritise the safety of women, which is why the Minister of Justice deemed the provision for safe zones necessary.

Why 20 weeks and not the recommended 22 weeks?

This is about ensuring abortion is treated like a health issue, not a crime.

We’re taking a balanced and moderate approach to law reform, enabling pregnant women to make the decision about abortion, in consultation with a suitably qualified health practitioner, until 20 weeks of a pregnancy.

Abortions performed after 20 weeks require different public policy considerations, and only account for a small percentage of the total number of abortions (0.5% in 2017).

While there will still be a statutory test after 20 weeks of a pregnancy, the health practitioner must consider the patient’s wellbeing – unlike current law. The current law states that an abortion is only permitted if the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.

What won’t be changed through this process?

It will still be an offence for a doctor or health practitioner who is not suitably qualified and registered, and who doesn’t have the appropriate training and experience, to perform an abortion.

The offence of killing an unborn child will also exist. This offence, as it currently stands, is not aimed at abortion, but rather the killing of children during birth or through assaults on pregnant women.

Will doctors be forced to perform abortions?

No. Doctors will be able to object to performing an abortion, but they must disclose their objection to the pregnant woman and give advice on where to access abortion services.

Do these proposed changes mean people will be able to access ‘abortion on demand’ or abortion up until birth?

No. Under the proposed changes, a pregnant woman would be able to make the decision about abortion, in consultation with a suitably qualified health practitioner, until 20 weeks of a pregnancy. After that, a health practitioner would need to be satisfied that an abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, taking into account the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Abortions performed after 20 weeks account for a small percentage of the total number of abortions.

Late term abortions relate to infections, haemorrhages, maternal conditions, congenital abnormalities, fetal growth restrictions or spontaneous preterm births.

Do New Zealanders have the opportunity to share their views?

Yes. New Zealanders were asked to share their views through the Select Committee's submissions process. You can read more about this here.

This is an important public conversation which must not be rushed. Follow the Bill's progress here.