Patience atop a tinderbox: All-female committee navigates abortion reform

A submission from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on Tuesday expressed a "strong desire" for the decriminalisation of abortion.
A submission from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on Tuesday expressed a "strong desire" for the decriminalisation of abortion. Photo credit: Newshub.

The select committee tasked with hearing submissions on abortion has navigated a cacophony of contrasts. David Seymour is usually the only male MP on the committee, but was away on Tuesday, so a group of all-female MPs heard submissions.

A submission from doctors was closely followed by a group of Catholic women. Each could not have been more different, but so far the committee has avoided falling into the heated controversies of the End of Life Choice Bill.

The new law will decriminalise abortion. It will mean women can make the decision to have an abortion for themselves, up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. After that point, it would need to be signed off by a health practitioner.

Under the current law, abortion is illegal unless two doctors say the pregnancy would cause danger to the physical health or mental health of the mother.

Abortion law passed its first reading with overwhelming support - 94 votes in favour, 23 against. That vote wasn’t without its controversies; a last-second curveball from New Zealand First called for a referendum, the NZ First caucus overruling the work of their own MP Tracey Martin, who believed it would be a straight vote.

A submission from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on Tuesday expressed a "strong desire" for the decriminalisation of abortion, as a show of respect for women and an "integral part of women’s health care".

The biggest problem, they said, is in rural areas like Northland, where women have to travel too far to see the two certified consultants they need to have their abortion signed off. 

"Delays make the procedure less safe. It is still safe, but the further on it goes the greater chance of any complications," the doctors told MPs.

The doctors would rather see abortions signed off by one consultant after 20 weeks, as proposed by the Government. That’s not because it’s the best medical option – that’s because of politics. 

"We don't want to get tied up with late gestation [because it] becomes much more an emotional issue. We’d hate to see the bill fall over because of concerns about late gestation."

The Association of Catholic Women NZ’s submission was a study in opposites. The proposed law change "claims to enhance women’s health. Women’s health will definitely suffer from it," Diane Taylor said.

"The healthy choice is to carry the child to term."

Julie Volante added "ultrasound is irrefutable proof of personhood," before Margaret Bowden claimed New Zealand will be "led down the path of other countries have taken, for example, China and the USA, where the horrors of partial-birth abortion are adopted. Foetal tissue is even consumed in China for nourishment, confirmed by internet reports."

Internet reports Newshub found include images of an artist staging a shock piece called 'Eating People' and gruesome 2012 reporting on "human flesh pills" smuggled into South Korea.

Medical doctor and prominent reproductive rights advocate Dame Margaret Sparrow in the audience didn’t visibly frown but certainly looked rather dark while the Catholic women submitted via a phone link. 

They signed off with a "god bless" and no questions from MPs

Newshub. 

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