Mark Sainsbury: Abortion law is a charade

Ultrasound stethoscope
NZ's abortion laws require us all to be part of a giant charade, says Mark Sainsbury (File)

OPINION: I Googled "abortion in New Zealand" this morning and the first page that came up carried the message: "Abortion is free in New Zealand to any pregnant person eligible for funded healthcare".

What do you read into that? To me it says abortion is a legal and readily available form of contraception in this country.

But let's get a few facts on the table: Abortion is a crime in this country.

Well, technically it is. To have an abortion in New Zealand you must have two certified doctors attest that it's medically necessary for you to have the procedure based on a physical or mental risk to you. There are also grounds based on incest or sexual relations with a guardian, and foetal abnormality.

But let's be honest. The law is a crock, an artifice.

It's reported that in 2014, 97 percent of abortions were carried out on mental health grounds. Last year there were 13,000 abortions and there are claims one in four Kiwi women have had an abortion. I find these figures staggering and slightly hard to believe.

Personally I'm not a great fan of abortion - it's a very visceral intervention for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, but ultimately I believe it is the woman's right to choose.

What gets me about all of this is we are part of some giant pantomime, a charade.

The patients, the doctors, the politicians, everyone. They just have to play their part and, nod nod wink wink, it gets done.

Is it time then to follow what the British Parliament is doing and move to decriminalise abortion? The argument in the UK is that it is the only medical procedure there governed by legislation this old and out of step with medical developments and public attitudes.

The availability of online abortion pills obtained outside official licensed clinics is also fuelling the move.

This debate is one politicians would rather not have. It is highly charged and in those circumstances it's much, much easier to totally ignore it. But it's too important for that. For what other procedure do patients have to basically lie to get approved?

We either leave it to the women and the doctors or, if we want to impose some moral order on pregnant women, then have the guts to do it.

Right now we have a regime based on pretence, and it's time that was changed.

Again, this is not a religious argument, although like PM Bill English your religion may determine your position.

It's time to have an honest conversation about this. Is a law where everyone has to pretend a valid law?

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.