In New Zealand, abortion is a crime. That is why it is in the Crimes Act 1961.

Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures in the developed world. Its regulation in New Zealand and other countries is far out of proportion to its risk. 

The law makes an exception for abortions approved by two certifying consultants.

The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 sets out the parameters of the abortion bureaucracy in New Zealand. It establishes the Abortion Supervisory Committee. That committee maintains a list of certifying consultants, the doctors who are capable of approving abortions (or not).

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion abortion regulations are more about controlling women’s fertility than about making health care safe. It becomes even more difficult if you read the Report of the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion.

In it, you see men of the 1970s trying to cater for a system that reduces the number of women dying of sepsis in unsafe, illegal abortions, while still forcing most women to give birth in most cases whether they like it or not.

The Commission focused on the reason for the abortion. A woman being “severely sub-normal” in the eyes of the law was a good reason. A woman being raped was not a good enough reason, because the Commission assumed women would just lie to get abortions.

Some New Zealanders believe the law, and the way it has been applied, amount to abortion on request. They are sadly mistaken. Certifying consultants denied an abortion to 216 people in 2014, the last year for which we have data.

183 Procuring abortion by any means

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl, whether she is pregnant or not,—

(a) unlawfully administers to or causes to be taken by her any poison or any drug or any noxious thing; or

(b) unlawfully uses on her any instrument; or

(c) unlawfully uses on her any means other than any means referred to in paragraph (a) or paragraph (b).

(2) The woman or girl shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section.

187A Meaning of unlawfully

(1) For the purposes of sections 183 and 186, any act specified in either of those sections is done unlawfully unless, in the case of a pregnancy of not more than 20 weeks’ gestation, the person doing the act believes—

(a) that the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger (not being danger normally attendant upon childbirth) to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the woman or girl; or

(aa) that there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would be so physically or mentally abnormal as to be seriously handicapped; or

(b) that the pregnancy is the result of sexual intercourse between—

(i) a parent and child; or

(ii) a brother and sister, whether of the whole blood or of the half blood; or

(iii) a grandparent and grandchild; or

(c) that the pregnancy is the result of sexual intercourse that constitutes an offence against section 131(1); or

(d) that the woman or girl is severely subnormal within the meaning of section 138(2).

(2) The following matters, while not in themselves grounds for any act specified in section 183 or section 186, may be taken into account in determining for the purposes of subsection (1)_(a), whether the continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger to her life or to her physical or mental health:

(a) the age of the woman or girl concerned is near the beginning or the end of the usual child-bearing years:

(b) the fact (where such is the case) that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the pregnancy is the result of sexual violation.

(3) For the purposes of sections 183 and 186, any act specified in either of those sections is done unlawfully unless, in the case of a pregnancy of more than 20 weeks’ gestation, the person doing the act believes that the miscarriage is necessary to save the life of the woman or girl or to prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.

(4) Where a medical practitioner, in pursuance of a certificate issued by 2 certifying consultants under section 33 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, does any act specified in section 183 or section 186 of this Act, the doing of that act shall not be unlawful for the purposes of the section applicable unless it is proved that, at the time when he or she did that act, he or she did not believe it to be lawful in terms of subsection (1) or subsection (3), as the case may require.