Pro-choice activists give 'props' to Government's abortion reform, despite disappointment

Pro-choice activists are disappointed the Government's opted for a relatively conservative reform of abortion law.

Newshub understands the Bill, to be revealed later on Monday, will take abortion out of the Crimes Act, but women more than 20 weeks' pregnant will still need to take a physical and mental test. That's similar to one of the options suggested by the Law Commission, which was a test after a slightly less conservative 22 weeks.

Despite this, Terry Bellamak of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) said it's been a long time coming.

"It only took 40 years, but props to this Government," she told The AM Show on Monday. "In as far as they've come just to this point, they've already surpassed every previous Government since Muldoon."

She said pro-choice activists wanted the Law Commission's option A - no test at all, the woman simply making the decision after consultation with her doctor - and pointed the finger at New Zealand First, not Justice Minister Andrew Little's party Labour.

"I suspect they probably had to get it past their coalition partners... It's a bit of a disappointment - we were hoping for model A, along with... organisations that actually deal with abortion. The model C that they're going with... it's a little bit of a disappointment.

"But I'm still hopeful a lot of the other good stuff from the Law Commission report is going to make it into the Bill - stuff like self-referral, which is really important, to be able to refer yourself into the service without having to go through a GP as a gatekeeper."

Terry Bellamak.
Terry Bellamak. Photo credit: The AM Show

In 2017, there were 13,285 abortions carried out in New Zealand. Only 96 of them came after 20 weeks of pregnancy - 0.15 percent. A Newshub-Reid Research poll carried out in March found seven in 10 Kiwis think it should no longer be a crime.

Bellamak said under the proposed legislation, at least the facade woman and their doctor have to go through - knowingly lying to each other about mental health risks - will be dropped for women whose pregnancies haven't reached the 20-week stage.

"Ninety-eight percent of abortions are provided on mental health grounds, and just basic statistics will show you it's not that likely so many pregnant people actually have a diagnosable mental illness."

Despite the present law being in place since 1977, pro-life activists say there still hasn't been enough discussion on how it could be reformed. 

"There's mental health risks that are not discussed, there's not sufficient informed consent for women seeking an abortion," Voice for Life spokeswoman Kate Cormack told Newshub.

"There's also disability discrimination, which hasn't been addressed."

Cormack fears loosening the rules will influence women who are on the fence about whether to get an abortion or carry their baby to term.

"I don't think I've actually had any women who have continued on with their pregnancy and given birth to their child who have regretted that. It's about wraparound support, it's about encouraging her, empowering her."