NZ First MP Tracey Martin shares tragic personal connection to backstreet abortion

New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin has opened up about a tragic personal connection she has to backstreet abortion. 

Martin has shared the story she wanted to tell in Parliament, before her caucus pulled the rug out from under her, calling for a referendum on abortion.

Martin - who worked with Justice Minister Andrew Little on the Abortion Legislation Bill which passed its first reading on Thursday - knows the suffering that can come from illegal abortions. 

It cost her grandmother's life. 

"She had a backstreet termination and she died of toxaemia in Christchurch Hospital in 1946," Martin told Newshub. 

When the minister spoke at Parliament on Thursday night, she had wanted to tell her grandmother Beverley's story. 

"Beverley left her two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son in 1943, and it took us well into the 1980s to find out what happened to her.... but that story will have to wait," Martin said in her speech. 

She ended up using her speech at the proposed abortion law's first reading to "provide some clarity" after she appeared to be left in the dark over her party's decision to call for a referendum. 

Martin originally planned to talk about her family's personal connection to abortion.

"When we found her unmarked grave, we found that in the plot two down from her was her sister Eunice, who had died of toxaemia from a backstreet abortion 18 months later."

Martin said she was thinking of her mother, who was a two-year-old at the time her mother disappeared, and that made her emotional. 

"She spent all of her life without a mother and she thought her mother had left her and never cared about her."

She said if Beverley had the services and the removal of stigma Parliament is fighting for now, things would have been different. 

"My mother would have had a mother somewhere."

Dangerous backstreet abortions are still a problem. The World Health Organisation says globally, 70,000 women die each year after unsafe abortions.

"I can imagine that there are people that are starting to think that they know Beverley. That she was hard and fast and it was her irresponsibleness that led to her circumstances," Martin said. 

"Beverley was just a woman who wanted to be loved."

Martin said she had been planning on supporting the proposed abortion legislation all the way through to law. 

She said she had been working on removing abortion from the Crimes Act for eight months with the Justice Minister. Then, suddenly her caucus called for a last minute referendum. 

Martin said she contacted Little to say sorry.

"I wasn't thrilled [with having to apologise to him]. It felt sad. But it is what it is."

She said she thought her party would treat it as a conscience vote. 

But Martin is backing her caucus, telling Newshub: "Let's get real, a caucus can try and whip a conscience vote, but there's literally no punishment that anybody can give an elected official if they don't follow a whipping."

When asked if she will vote for the Bill to become law if there's no referendum, Martin said: "At the moment I'm taking it one step at a time."