'We have a right to be heard': Anger over Abortion Legislation Committee process

A pro-life group is lashing out at the select committee for proposed abortion law changes after it agreed to see 150 out of 2890 proposed oral submitters. 

Right to Life spokesperson Ken Orr said there is no urgency to pass the proposed Abortion Legislation Bill and is urging the Abortion legislation Select Committee to hear from more submitters. 

"There is no urgency to pass this Bill. There is however urgency for the committee to ensure that every citizen who wants to be heard is heard, both those for and against."

But the committee's chair, Labour MP Ruth Dyson, told Newshub there is nothing unusual in the number of oral submitters the group has invited to see. 

"We receive and read all submissions we have... It's entirely up to the committee... We ensured that a range of perspectives were heard and Right to Life were an organisation we chose to invite."

Right to Life lashed out after the committee announced this week it had received more than 25,000 submissions on the legislation, with about 2890 submitters wanting to make an oral submission. 

The committee said it invited about 150 submitters to make oral submissions - about 5 percent - including legal experts, medical professionals, faith-based organisations, national bodies, and individuals. 

"We appreciate the time and effort spent on written submissions," Dyson said. "These submissions will all be read and will inform our consideration of the Bill."

Orr said because the committee has "no other business", it should "devote itself to hearing from a wide range of people on their views and engaging in a respectful and open discussion". 

Labour MP and committee chair Ruth Dyson.
Labour MP and committee chair Ruth Dyson. Photo credit: Brigitte Masters

"Those who govern should not forget that they govern with the consent of the governed. We the governed have an absolute right to be heard."

Dyson said it is a committee decision about which submitters to hear from, and they are not obliged to hear from all, or any, submitters who wish to appear in person.

The aim of the legislation is to bring abortion out of the Crimes Act. 

As it currently stands, women have to use a loophole to get an abortion in New Zealand, by getting two doctors to agree the pregnancy would put her in physical or mental danger. 

The Abortion Legislation Bill passed its first reading in Parliament in August as a conscience vote for MPs, with 94 votes in favour and 23 against.  

The proposed changes to abortion law are based on recommendations from the Law Commission which reported back its advice to Justice Minister Andrew Little in October. 

The commission recommended three options for a health-based approach to abortion, one which included having a doctor's approval only for women more than 22 weeks pregnant. 

The final Bill announced in August went with 20 weeks. 

The Bill would also:

  • allow safe areas to be established around specific abortion facilities
  • amend the process for doctors who conscientiously object to providing abortion services
  • make it clear that doctors must advise people who are considering, or have had, an abortion that counselling services are available

The committee is due to report back to Parliament by 8 February 2020.