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What is the current abortion law? Would you, your partner, your friend, be eligible for an abortion under New Zealand law?

Abortion is a crime under New Zealand law, legislated in the Crimes Act 1961.

Your doctor or anyone else can be liable for up to 14 years imprisonment for trying to unlawfully cause your abortion (s 183(1)).

You can be liable for up to 7 years imprisonment for unlawfully supplying or procuring any drug or instrument intended to be used unlawfully in an abortion (s 186).

You can be liable for a $200 fine if you unlawfully procure your own abortion (s 44(1) of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 (CS&AA)).

So, when is an abortion legal?

An abortion is legal when you meet the grounds below (s 187A CA).

Less than 20 weeks pregnant

If you are seeking an abortion and are less than 20 weeks pregnant you have to prove the following to be eligible:

  • That there is serious danger to your life, physical or mental health (s 187A(1)(a)).
    • This can include if you are very old or very young (2)(a) or your pregnancy is the result of sexual violation (b)
  • Substantial risk that your child would be seriously handicapped (aa)
  • Your pregnancy is a result of incest (b)
  • Your pregnancy is a result of sex with a guardian (c)
  • You are severely subnormal i.e. unable to understand the nature of sexual conduct (d)

Most abortions are claimed on the grounds of danger to mental health. In 2016, 97% of abortions were claimed on that ground (Abortion Supervisory Committee).

Over 20 weeks pregnant

If you are seeking an abortion and are more than 20 weeks pregnant, you have to prove the following to be eligible:

  • That the abortion is necessary to save your life or to prevent serious permanent injury to your physical or mental health (3).

252 abortions were denied in 2016 due to not meeting the applicable grounds, however 99% of abortions that year were approved (Abortion Supervisory Committee).

While these are tight restrictions, there is no restriction on the age at which you can get an abortion.

No age restriction

A child can consent or refuse to consent to an abortion and they do not need to tell a legal guardian (s 38 Care of Children Act 2004).

Another tight restriction in the process of obtaining an abortion, is the requirement to obtain authorisation from two doctors.

You need to get authorisation from two doctors to get an abortion

For your abortion to be performed you need authorisation from two certifying consultants (one of whom is a practicing obstetrician or gynaecologist) (S 29 CS&AA). These are doctors appointed by the Abortion Supervisory Committee (s 30).

If the doctor you approach is a certifying consultant, they are required to refer the case to another one. If they are not, then they are required to refer the case to two certifying consultants (s 32(1)).

As soon as practicable, they shall consider your case and if you want, interview you (5). If they have not made a decision within 14 days, they have to provide the Supervisory Committee with the reasons for the delay (s 33(6)).

If both agree to authorise your abortion, then your certificate will be issued (s 33(1)). If one does not agree to authorise your abortion, then they will refer your case to another certifying consultant (3).

One positive requirement is you have to be advised you can seek counselling.

Counselling

Certifying consultants have to advise you of your right to seek counselling after they have made a decision either way (s 35 CS&AA).

The doctor you approach does not have to perform the abortion if they do not want to.

Conscientious objections

No doctor is under any obligation to perform or assist in your abortion if they object on grounds of conscience (s 46(1) CS&AA).

They can also refuse to refer you for an assessment (Hallagan & New Zealand Health Professionals Alliance Incorporated v Medical Council of New Zealand).

However, the doctor must inform you that you can obtain the service from another doctor or a family planning clinic (s 174(2) Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003).

While there are many conflicting views on abortion, it is important that knowledge of the process and legal rights are accessible to all.

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