For decades now, the legal side to abortion has been strict and uncompromising, but in practise, methods are much more liberal. The fight has now begun to change the law to reflect our liberal modern society as well. Yet with 92 members of Parliament able to propose a Bill on reforming this law, yet none coming forth, the battle continues to go on.
As with every issue, it is important to hear both sides of the story. Whether you agree or disagree, one must always try to be respectful and place yourself in another’s shoes, before finally reaching your own informed decision. People are extremely passionate about this issue. There are many polarising arguments. A huge amount of submissions and letters have been written to the government by right to choose groups. Many vigils have been held outside hospitals by right to life groups.
I set out to gather both perspectives on the debate of decriminalising abortion as the issue has surged back into the limelight, investigating the views from both the right to life and the right to choose groups. I also looked into how the political parties, who have the final say in this decision, weigh in.
David Seymour and the ACT Party
Firstly, David Seymour, leader of the ACT Party in March last year, brought the issue of abortion to the front of politicians minds through challenging Parliament. He stated that our current abortion laws are a “charade,” they are “archaic and should be modernised.”New Zealand was a more conservative country when the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act was passed. “Times have changed, but our legislation has not kept pace with our values as a country,” he said. Also compared to other jurisdictions, such as Australia and in Western Europe, where abortion is more freely available, New Zealand is an outlier.
97% of abortions by women come under the category justified due to mentally illness, yet nobody believes this statistic to be true. Seymour said “the right thing to do is reform abortion law to reflect what actually happens: women exercise choice over their own bodies for their own reasons.”
Seymour thus supports pro-choice when it comes to the issue of abortion, because personal choice is something he has always believed in. “Morally, abortion is about a woman’s body and her choice,” he said. “Practically, prohibitions on this choice have led to women suffering gruesome complications and death from barbaric backstreet abortions.”
Family First hold the belief that abortion is both a legal issue and a health issue. They draw awareness to protecting all human beings involved in a pregnancy, including the health and legal status of the baby. Family First said that “the current legal framework attempts to strike a balance” between the mother’s wellbeing and also “the fact that the deliberate taking of any innocent human life is a crime that must be safeguarded against.” They believe that by removing the current law on abortion from the Crimes Act will also mean the removal of safeguards for women. “Women are not made criminals by the current legislative guidelines and protections, rather the existing safeguards are there to protect women from unlicensed premises and coercion,” Family First’s recent submission to the Law Commission said.
On the right to choice debate, Family First hold that this question of choice is “far more complex,” because “abortion is the choice to end the life of another human being...and the unborn human beings will be robbed of all their choices if they are aborted.” They believe that women should be better informed about “all the risks, all the options, about foetal development, and about what the abortion procedure actually entails.” They also pointed out that there are many “loving kiwi couples who would jump at the chance to adopt and love an ‘unwanted’ child.”
Terry Bellamak, National President of Abortion Rights Aotearoa
Terry Bellamak believes that “It’s fundamental to the freedom of every human being that their body is their own, and no one can force them to use against their will. It’s the same issue as #rapeculture – it comes down to consent.” She said “We have a word for forcing a person to have sex against their will – it’s rape. Forcing someone to continue a pregnancy and give birth against their will is just as terrible a violation, but we don’t have a separate word for it. Maybe this discussion would be easier if we did.” Other countries are upping their game and we are falling further behind, she said.
It’s an important issue for New Zealand women because ”New Zealand has always supported women’s right to decide for themselves.” She pointed out that even when the present law was passed in 1977, it was still really unpopular, with people trying to get it repealed.
Bellamak said that the Royal Commission of 1975-1976, who enacted the current legislation, was “ mainly staffed by people who wanted to turn back the clock to the 1950’s and pretend the 1960s never happened. They were worried that churchgoing was in decline, and the roles of women were changing.” Yet on the other hand she said, “the country was sick of hearing about women dying from unsafe, illegal abortions, and having to travel to Australia to get safe ones.” And so they formulated a law “to allow abortion in very limited circumstances, making the process complex and punitive.” If you want to read more about this, she recommends reading Alison McCulloch’s ‘Fighting to Choose.’
There are many reasons why Bellamak is at the forefront of leading the campaign to change the laws on abortion, believing there are many things wrong with the current situation:
- “It leaves the decision in the hands of 2 random certifying consultants whom are supposed to know better than the pregnant person herself whether she should be approved for an abortion. This is ridiculous and insulting.
- It takes too long to get all the legal boxes ticked so that the abortion doesn’t break the law. It’s not for medical reasons and does not improve care.
- It’s discriminatory. No man or non-pregnant woman needs to go through such a convoluted process just to get safe, routine health care.
- 98% of abortions are granted on the mental health ground. It is statistically unlikely that many New Zealand women actually suffer from mental illness. According to people who access the abortion service, they have to lie to the certifying consultants and tell them their mental health is fragile in order to get the abortions they need because they don’t want to be pregnant.
- I could go on.”
Right to Life New Zealand
Right to Life, believe that “the unborn child is a patient who is entitled to special care and protection.” There are two lives involved in the decision to have an abortion - “two patients, the mother and the child.” They believe that “conscience rights” are at the heart of this debate and support the “continued legal protection” of these rights. Although they are a secular organisation, a large part of Right to Life’s perspective is rooted in Christian values and the want to “uphold and protect the inalienable God given right to life of all human beings from conception to natural death. It is their belief in the sanctity of human life which founds all of their actions. Right to Life hold that the unborn child is also “a human being endowed with an inalienable right to life,” and promote statutory recognition of this. Their cause is to “protect the weak and vulnerable in society, those who cannot defend themselves,” including the unborn child.
They also point out that there are many childless couples who would absolutely love to adopt a baby, yet “politically correct ideologies which have infiltrated our health system,” have made this option less encouraged. Right to Life want to correct the “increasingly damaged moral compass” that is our society and choose a “culture of life.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and the Labour Party
It was Ardern Labour-led Government that has started the ball rolling this year on changing the law, through Justice Minister Andrew Little, working calling a review by the Law Commission on abortion. Arden believes that abortion should not be covered in the Crimes Act; “women shouldn’t face being criminals for accessing their own rights.” Little said that previously “politicians have steered away from this debate because it’s in the to-hard basket.” But Ardern believes the current law is “a very old piece of legislation that is due for an update.” It doesn’t reflect the “way we tend to be, or should be, operating in New Zealand.” Thus the debate can no longer be avoided. Little noted that there is more of an issue surrounding abortion than just what is contained in the Crimes Act. “It is the hurdles, we out in the way of women who are faced with making that decision...We want all those issues to be canvassed and considered.” For the law to change, a conscience vote in Parliament would have to occur.
Previous National leader English has said that the current law is “broadly satisfactory.” This perspective continues under Simon Bridges, the current leader, as earlier this year he announced he’s opposed to taking abortion out of the Crimes Act. His reasoning behind this is that abortions should be “rare, safe, and legal.” He is currently waiting on the report back from the Law Commission before making any further decisions.
The Green Party’s official stance on this issue is, "Women's sovereignty over their own bodies should be protected and enhanced and their specific health needs addressed." After the Abortion Supervisory Committee released their latest report on abortion law in February 2017, the Green Party echoed the committee, releasing a press report also calling for a review of the 40 year old legislation. They believe that this issue is not a justice issue, rather it is a health issue and thus should not be included in the Crimes Act. One in four women in New Zealand have had an abortion, showing it should not be a crime. Jan Logie said that “we trust women to make decisions that are best for them and their whānau.”
Logie said that the Green Party support changing the laws on abortion because of the facts and their implications. “99% of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds revealing the dishonesty of the current legislation.” Furthermore, she said, under the current law, you must see two consultants before an abortion is allowed, and the time needed for this to occur means that the abortion happens later in pregnancy, meaning it is more dangerous for woman. They also want to “reduce the stigma and judgement that happens over the reasons a woman chooses to have an abortion.”
“We want to ensure equal access to all potential options are available to pregnant women,” Logie said.
Whatever your own final perspective is on this matter - there are many ways you can express your thoughts and get involved:
Get involved. Have your voice heard at a local protest or lobby.
Create a dialogue – talk to your parents, friends and peers.
Write, call or visit to your local MP and ask them to lodge a members’ bill on the issue.
If you know your MP’s name, go to the Email Your Rage page on our website, alranz.org, for an easy way to send email to the right address.
Sign a petition