Protesting outside clinics could be banned under new abortion reforms

Jacinda Ardern has revealed why new legislation would allow women to refer themselves to an abortion provider without a GP's signoff, unless they are more than 20 weeks pregnant.

The Law Commission put forward a 22-week cut-off for the test pregnant women have with their GP. The Government has gone for its own, more conservative and more politically-palatable approach. 

Speaking to media at the Beehive on Monday, the Prime Minister said the proposed law announced earlier in the day "has the greatest chance of succeeding in Parliament".

"I think that's really important because one of the ultimate goals here has been to modernise this legislation," Ardern said, when asked why the 22-week cut-off was chosen. 

"Yes, we need important protections in place, but ultimately, this issue should not be in the Crimes Act."

Justice Minister Andrew Little explained that the general practitioner has to "reasonably believe that the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant woman's physical and mental health and her well-being".

As it currently stands, abortion is an offence under the Crimes Act, and women have to use a loophole to make it legal.

Two medical practitioners have to agree the pregnancy would put the women in physical or mental danger to allow her to proceed with the abortion.

One woman Newshub spoke to who had an abortion said it was an awful experience, describing the experience as "disempowering, degrading and unnecessary".

She had to convince two doctors the pregnancy would be a danger to her mental health. She said she "didn't quite know what was going on or what I was meant to say".

Of the 13,285 abortions carried out in 2017, danger to mental health was cited as grounds for terminating the pregnancy in 12,925 cases - that's 97 percent.

Laws proposed by the Government would mean the vast majority of women would not need to do this.

The Justice Minister said it's so that "women who are considering or taking advice on abortion don't feel as though they are committing a crime - because they are not".

A new aspect of the law - a safe zone of up to 150 metres - could be established around abortion clinics where anti-abortion protestors would be banned.

Little said it is "simply inappropriate" for women to be "harassed, intimidated and confronted by anti-abortion protestors with their literature".

Medical practitioners who object to abortion are still entitled to do so under the proposed law, but must refer the woman to other services.

"It is not right for women who are seeking this advice in this regard to be obstructed and left to their own devices they must be able to know where to go," Little said.

The legislation will have its first reading on Thursday where all MPs will vote with their conscience instead of along party lines.

If it passes, the Government will set up a special committee of MPs completely focused on abortion law reform to hear submissions from the public.