Abortion law reform options
Options for decriminalising abortion have been outlined in a briefing paper to Justice Minister Andrew Little, after he commissioned the work in February.
The 300-page briefing, prepared by the Law Commission, outlines three options for reform – all of which include taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.
The sticking point is around whether a statutory test should be required before an abortion could be performed – meaning the health practitioner performing the abortion must be satisfied the procedure is appropriate, taking into account the woman’s physical and mental health.
This differs from current practice, which requires two doctors to agree pregnancy would put a woman in physical or mental danger.
The options are:
A: no statutory test: decision made by the pregnant woman in consultation with her health practitioner
B: statutory test
C: no statutory test until 22 weeks.
University of Otago Associate Professor Joe Boden, deputy director of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, felt option A was the best way forward - saying the statutory test options were too problematic.
The test requires a physician to certify that a woman’s mental health and wellbeing will be improved if she has an abortion, but there was currently no evidence to suggest this happened, he said.
"Elective abortion does have an effect on life outcomes, such that it allows women to continue on their life course pathway without interruption."
Associate Professor Liz Beddoe, a University of Auckland social work researcher, said it's important not to lose sight of the people wrestling with these decisions, as options are debated and politicians lobbied.
The SMC gathered expert reaction on the options.
"[W]hile this debate is happening, real people are facing decisions over an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, or a wanted pregnancy where hopes have been dashed by a medical diagnosis."
The Law Commission has also suggested removing the requirement for doctors to perform the procedure and allowing them to be carried out by nurses and midwives - a call which has been backed by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.