Earlier this week, New Zealand’s parliament passed a bill that would decriminalize abortion up to 20 weeks’ gestation. This is a significant change for the country, and one that does not bode well for the future.
Previously, the law required that two doctors approve an abortion, and usually the procedure is only considered if the mother’s health was in severe danger. In fact, prior to this change, the procedure was considered a crime “unless it was performed under exceptional circumstances.” New Zealand’s Family Planning organizations describes those conditions as “serious danger to life, serious danger to physical health, serious danger to mental health, any form of incest or sexual relations with a guardian, mental sub normality or fetal abnormality.”
As Justice Minister Andrew Little put it, “From now abortions will be rightly treated as a health issue. The previous law required a woman seeking an abortion to go through many hoops. The changes agreed to by parliament will better ensure women get advice and treatment in a more timely way.”
Surprisingly, despite the restrictions, about one in four women have had an abortion in the country. According to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who famously gave birth while in office, many women feel like they “have to lie to legally access an abortion in New Zealand and if they do tell the truth then under New Zealand law, they are a criminal. And I don’t believe that is right. I fundamentally disagree with that.”
It’s a disappointing conclusion, and New Zealand is not the only country that has recently embraced abortion. Last year, Irish voters legalized abortion, and the practice is also now legal in New South Wales, Australia.
It’s unclear why so many countries have decided to make this change. Is it a change in cultural perception? Perhaps. But the evidence is unclear.
In New Zealand, there was strong opposition to the bill. Of the 25,000 people who commented on the bill, 90% were against it. A survey conducted by the New Zealand Journal of Medicine concluded that 89% of the population supported legalized abortion if the woman’s life is endangered and 65% supported legalized abortion for any reason. To have the numbers be so completely at odds is rather strange. Why would 22,500 voice objections to the bill if about 65% of the country support legal abortion for any reason? It doesn’t make much sense, but abortion studies rarely do.
There were also several medical professionals against the bill, but pro-abortion activists didn’t seem to care. Terry Bellamak, head of Abortion Law Reform Association, stated. “Ultimately, philosophically I think people should only become doctors if they are willing to perform the whole job. So, they should only become obstetricians and gynecologists if they are willing to perform abortions at need.”
This bill is also unnecessary. According to Noted, a New Zealand based online news website, the country “has seen a decline in the number of abortions being performed since the mid-2000s. In 2007, 20.1% of all pregnancies in New Zealand ended in an abortion but by 2017, that had fallen to 13.7%.”
With now almost unrestricted access to abortion in New Zealand during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, it is likely that the number will go up.
Follow Brittany on Twitter @brittanyraymer.