Former PM Sir Bill English and Green MP Jan Logie in fiery debate over abortion law

Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English and Green MP Jan Logie engaged in a heated discussion at select committee over the "conscientious objection" clause in proposed abortion law changes.  

"It's a disgraceful piece of legislation," Sir Bill, who was Prime Minister from 2016 to 2017, told the Abortion Legislation Committee on Wednesday. 

"I'm surprised the Government allowed it to come forward, when mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is being pushed."

The former National Party leader took aim at a section of the proposed law - that would take abortion out of the Crimes Act - which says healthcare employees would be allowed to object to providing an abortion based on their beliefs. 

It also says those who have a conscientious objection "must be accommodated by an employer as long as it would not unreasonably disrupt the employer's ability to provide abortion services". 

Sir Bill argued that it opens the door to discrimination against employees, telling the committee it would allow DHBs that provide abortion services to "do a thing called cause someone to resign". 

Logie, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice, argued that the legislation "has a reasonable mix of criteria around interference". 

"It's hard to see for me that a large DHB or institution would be in a situation where a person could not be found to do other duties... it doesn't fit with what's likely to happen."

Former Prime Minister and National Party leader Sir Bill English at the Abortion Legislation Committee.
Former Prime Minister and National Party leader Sir Bill English at the Abortion Legislation Committee. Photo credit: Newshub

The interaction became heated, when the pair started talking over each other, and Sir Bill told Logie to "listen to me please". 

He said it's "quite possible" that healthcare employers who have been involved in providing an abortion would feel "traumatised", and that it wouldn't be fair if they were then "harassed" by their employer. 

"Why does [the worker] have to carry the burden?"

Logie pointed to submissions from Tuesday, when women presented to the committee about their experiences with abortion. Logie said she noticed how the negative stigma of abortions had clearly impacted on their lives. 

"My challenge to you, in terms of the way you've presented, is how do we protect those families in making really that hard decision?" Logie asked the former PM. 

Sir Bill said he doesn't condone women being ostracised in society for having an abortion, but he said he doesn't believe bringing it out of the Crimes Act will bring that negative stigma down. 

ACT leader David Seymour asked Sir Bill if he could see a connection between the negative stigma and keeping abortion in the Crimes Act. 

He pointed to a woman who presented on Tuesday, who described how she was treated negatively after having a late-term abortion, but said she only had it because her life was at risk. 

"Surely you can see the connection between the stigma and keeping the law in place?" Seymour asked. 

"I hope you're not implying having a view about this Bill means I have a view about this person," Sir Bill replied. 

Green MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice, Jan Logie.
Green MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice, Jan Logie. Photo credit: Newshub

He continually referred to section 182 of the Crimes Act, which states that, "Everyone is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who causes the death of any child that has not become a human being."

Sir Bill said the current abortion legislation would be an "exception" to this. 

Sir Bill's wife, Dr Lady Mary English, also presented to the committee, and also engaged in a somewhat heated discussion with Logie. 

Dr English described the legislation as "radical", and said the committee should "not endorse state coercion", presenting the same argument as her husband on employer rights. 

"I struggle with your characterisation as removing abortion from the Crimes Act as radical," Logie said. 

She pointed to the recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council for New Zealand to remove abortion from the Crimes Act because it is inconsistent with the rights of women. 

"I think it's radical for the New Zealanders it will affect," Dr English replied. 

"It's really radical because it stops a beating heart at 10 weeks... And babies can be born alive."

Dr English also argued it's "ludicrous" that Parliament is seeking to give women more access to abortion services, but "but ignoring women giving babies on the side of the road". 

She also believes the conscientious objection clause will place more barriers in front of young people looking to study healthcare, because of the risk of being discriminated against based on their beliefs. 

"This is going to make it very monochrome."

Logie argued: "To my mind, what we're trying to do is find a balance, allowing conscientious objection, but also a right to healthcare."

Read about the proposed abortion law changes here