Abortion law debate leads to Speaker Trevor Mallard booting heckler from Chamber

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum have made the case for abortion law change in Parliament, facing down hecklers and protesters outside holding up graphic imagery. 

The Green Party's Jan Logie was the final MP to speak on the legislation on Tuesday night and was heckled by a man in the public gallery who shouted at her, "Shame on you!"

Logie, Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence), had been talking about how it was "a real honour to speak tonight, as a feminist who has been working towards abortion law reform for years". 

The interjection in the public gallery led House Speaker Trevor Mallard to spring up from his chair and order the man's removal from the Chamber. 

It followed on from a protest outside Parliament where a group of determined anti-abortion marchers held up graphic signs described as "sick" but Justice Minister Andrew Little. 

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson defended Logie on Twitter, saying Logie was "subjected to intimidation and abuse from the gallery while giving her speech to support abortion law reform". 

The purpose of the Abortion Legislation Bill is to bring abortion out of the Crimes Act, because women currently have to use a loophole to make it legal. 

Women must undergo a test by two medical practitioners who decide if the pregnancy would put the women in physical or mental danger, and allow her to proceed with the abortion. 

The legislation would still require a test for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant. And that test has now been strengthened, meaning two doctors will have to agree an abortion is the right decision. 

But that won't be necessary for many women, because just 0.5 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, usually due to extreme complications. It's a serious procedure that takes place in a hospital. 

The Bill received more than 25,000 submissions, and the Abortion Legislation Committee - a group of MPs set up specifically for consideration of the Bill - heard from more than 130 people during 30 hours of oral evidence. 

National MP Agnes Loheni, who has openly opposed the legislation, said in her speech to the House on Tuesday night that 91.6 percent of the 25,000 submissions opposed the changes. 

"In decriminalising women who seek an abortion, the sad reality of this Bill is that it dehumanises the unborn baby by framing abortion via termination as a health issue."

Green MP Jan Logie speaking in Parliament.
Green MP Jan Logie speaking in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

The Bill passed its seconding reading with a large majority: 81 votes in favour and 39 against. The majority wasn't as strong as the Bill's first reading in August 2019: 94 votes in favour and 23 against. 

Loheni said she was "not able to effect any meaningful change to this Bill despite an overwhelming number of submissions against it" and said that's why she wrote a minority view to "ensure those views that opposed her heard". 

Her minority review report raised concerns about the legislation allowing a woman 20 weeks pregnant to refer herself to an abortion provider without having to undergo a medical test first.

Logie acknowledged in her speech that it is "obvious from the submissions that we don't have a consensus in this country on abortion, and there is a very motivated group of people who are deeply opposed to abortion". 

She said lawmakers "understand those views" and that she "absolutely supports the right of these people to hold and live themselves according to those views". 

But Logie said the legislation is "not about limiting access to abortion in Aotearoa".

She said it is about "updating our law to better reflect the best medical practice and to meet our international obligations to respect women's bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health rights".  

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the proposals in the Bill will "enable earlier access to services and will support the best health and wellbeing outcomes for women". 

National MP Nikki Kaye also supports it, telling fellow MPs it is "wrong to have this law reform under the framework of the Crimes Act" and that she wanted to "put on record that I think that that is unacceptable". 

Other MPs did not support the Bill, such as Labour MP Greg O'Connor, who is the father of a 27-year-old handicapped son. 

He said he's worried about parents finding out they're going to have a handicapped child and face a "whole new set of pressures" with the prospect of more accessible abortion.