Lawmakers vote against putting abortion law changes to referendum

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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Lawmakers have 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, and the Bill passed its final reading, 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 seconding 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.

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.