Abortion no longer a crime in New Zealand as law change passes final reading in Parliament

People exit the "Beehive" building at the New Zealand Parliament on Lambton Quay in downtown Wellington, New Zealand, November 28, 2017. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
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Abortion is no longer a crime in New Zealand after lawmakers voted to pass the Abortion Legislation Bill which brings abortion out of the Crimes Act.

The legislation passed 68 against 51.

"For over 40 years abortion has been the only medical procedure considered a crime in New Zealand. But from now abortions will be rightly treated as a health issue," Justice Minister Andrew Little said after the Bill passed on Wednesday night. 

Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues) Jan Logie is also hailing it a victory for women who will "have the freedom to make the right decisions for themselves" about having a child. 

"Our previous abortion law was 40 years old, and didn't reflect current medical science or best practice," Logie, a Green Party MP, said.

"It treated pregnant people in our communities as untrustworthy and unable to make their own decisions, and created serious barriers to healthcare.

"Now, if they do decide to seek an abortion, it will be able to be timely and compassionate. No longer will they have to jump through unnecessary hurdles."

The Justice Minister noted how the legislation was "robustly debated in Parliament" and that several changes were made, including strengthening the post-20 week abortion criteria. 

One of the strongest opponents to the Bill was National MP Agnes Loheni, who opposed the legislation being recommended by the select committee overseeing it, and produced her own minority report

Loheni has highlighted how of the 25,000 submissions on the Bill, approximately 91.6 percent were opposed to it passing. 

She described the legislation as "an attack on our own humanity".

In Parliament she said, "Who are we and [where] are we heading as a society if we allow laws which attack our the most sacred instinct [a mother] has for her unborn child?"

Earlier on Wednesday, MPs voted against putting abortion law changes to a public referendum, with MPs voting 19 in favour and 100 against. 

The idea was proposed by New Zealand First but has been voted down by MPs during the committee stage of the Abortion Legislation Bill on Wednesday morning. 

If a referendum had been included, it would add to the already packed agenda of referendum questions being put to Kiwis at the election on recreational cannabis and euthanasia

The Abortion Legislation Bill passed its second reading earlier this month 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. 

On the day of the second reading, there was a protest outside Parliament where a group of determined anti-abortion marchers held up graphic signs described as "sick" by Justice Minister Andrew Little. 

When the Bill had its second reading in Parliament, up for debate were 150-metre safe zones that could be established around abortion clinics on a case-by-case basis.

Abortion reformists were left fuming after politicians scrapped the creation of the safe zones because MPs were seemingly asleep at the wheel during the vote.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson attempted to introduce a new amendment on Wednesday that would have brought safe zones back into the Bill, but it was voted down.

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, with a qualified health practitioner required to consult at least one other qualified health practitioner on whether the abortion is clinically appropriate. 

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.