Abortion debate: 'Progressive' Ireland set to leapfrog NZ

  • 27/05/2018

The landslide vote in Ireland's abortion referendum means it will likely soon have more progressive laws than New Zealand, a pro-choice advocate says.

Exit polls and early results in the referendum on Ireland's eighth amendment show a two-thirds majority vote in favour of repeal.

The Irish government has indicated it's likely to change the law by the end of the year - likely to allow terminations within the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and between 12 and 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.

Terry Bellamak from Alranz Abortion rights Aotearoa says New Zealand needs to make a change too.

"If that legislation passes, Ireland will have more progressive abortion laws than New Zealand," she told Newshub.

Ms Bellamark says the choice to have an abortion should be made by those who are pregnant, and no one else.

"Abortion care is regular health care that people need - we trust people to choose it for themselves, to decide for themselves whether or not they need that care. That's what our laws should reflect - that kind of trust in pregnant people."

Under New Zealand law, abortion is a crime except in a few scenarios:

  • if the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother
  • if there's a substantial risk that the child would be "seriously handicapped"
  • if the child is a result of incest
  • if the woman is "severely subnormal".

None of these situations apply if the gestation has passed 20 weeks.

Ms Bellamak says the law, contained in the Crimes Act 1961, is based on archaic information.

"[Laws] need to be evidence-based, because abortion is extremely safe. Abortion is a public health success story - serious complication occur in less than 1 percent of cases."

Ireland, a majority Catholic country, only legalised divorce in the 1990s.

Justice Minister Andrew Little wants to update the law, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - currently pregnant with her first child - also backs a change.

"It shouldn't be in the Crimes Act," she said last year. "This is about everyone being able to make their own decision."

Anti-abortion lobby group Right to Life says it would be "catastrophe" if abortion was taken out of the Crimes Act. In a statement on Saturday, spokesperson Ken Orr said its supporters are the "enemy of the family with the promotion of hedonistic sexuality that distorts the creator's plan for procreation by entirely separating sexual intercourse from procreation".

"Right to Life, together with the pro-life, pro-women and pro-family movement, will vigorously oppose… plans to set up killing centres in New Zealand."

Any new legislation would go to a conscience vote in Parliament.