New Zealand law allows abortion on demand up to 20 weeks into pregnancy

A police car is seen in front of the parliament building in Wellington, New Zealand, September 21, 2017.
A police car is seen in front of the parliament building in Wellington, New Zealand, September 21, 2017. | REUTERS/Ana Nicolaci da Costa

New Zealand's Parliament has passed a law decriminalizing abortion and allowing women to obtain an abortion for any reason through the fifth month of pregnancy. Some lawmakers have warned that the law also opens the door to sex-selective abortions and abortion up to the moment of birth.

Parliament voted 68-51 last week to pass the bill that lifts restrictions on abortion up to 20 weeks gestation. Women seeking an abortion past 20 weeks can get the procedure so long as they obtain approval from a medical professional.

The new law overturns a previous measure from 1977 that banned abortion unless the procedure was approved by two doctors appointed by the state known as “certifying consultants.”   

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The New York Times reported that despite existing restrictions on abortion, "... about 13,000 abortions a year are performed legally" in New Zealand. These circumstances include "when a woman’s physical or mental health is endangered."

"Critics claim that has made it common for women to feign mental illness to obtain abortions, and for doctors to play along," the NY Times added. 

Justice Minister Andrew Little praised the bill's passage, claiming that for more than four decades “abortion has been the only medical procedure considered a crime in New Zealand.”

“The previous law required a women seeking an abortion to go through many hoops. That resulted in delays to access a procedure, and that was less safe,” said Little, according to The Guardian. “The changes agreed to by parliament will better ensure women get advice and treatment in a more timely way.”

Agnes Loheni, a National Party member of Parliament who opposed the bill, warned in her speech in the House that "it will allow abortions up to the moment of birth," Radio New Zealand reported. 

Similarly, the NY Times noted that Simeon Brown, another National Party lawmaker, voiced concerns that the new law would allow sex-selective abortions and the killing of preborn babies who are developed enough to survive outside the womb. 

“I’m opposed to this bill not because of the tenets of any religion but because of scientific, philosophical and ethical principles,” Brown said.

Terry Bellamak, the director of the pro-abortion group Alranz Abortion Rights Aotearoa, supported the new abortion bill.

“Finally after 44 years, New Zealand parliament has recognized that women have bodily autonomy — and that is huge. Being able to control one’s fertility is key to one’s life — it is hard to see how we could achieve equality without that,” said Bellamak, as quoted by the Guardian

Voice for Life, a national pro-life organization founded in 1970, posted a statement on its Facebook page earlier this week denouncing the bill that expands abortion in the country. 

“The most troubling thing for the pro-life community is not only that our lobbying efforts did not prevent the bill from passing as law, but it's more so the horrific implications of the many innocent lives that will be barbarically terminated as a result,” the pro-life group said.

“Many pro-abortion lobbyists have taken the opportunity to relentlessly attack us with vulgar and demeaning language, hoping that their efforts will cause us to retreat indefinitely. The unmasked pro-abortion movement is certainly not a pleasant sight to behold, so we appreciate your thoughts and support at this time.”

Voice for Life also vowed to launch “a better, stronger, online forum/platform, knowing that more people will be online than ever before, who we can reach with the pro-life message.”

“… many kiwis who have not yet given adequate consideration to the issues of abortion and euthanasia, may now have time to wrestle with these subjects via social media over the next month,” they continued.

“Unlike the pro-abortion movement, be sure to graciously present logical, scientific, and ethical arguments, while giving people space to contemplate what you have shared.”  

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