Abortion Report Shows Improvements in Care

The Ministry of Health’s annual report on abortion care in Aotearoa shows improvements in the provision of abortion care following the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act. Ministry data shows 45% of abortions were provided at 8 weeks gestation or less, up from 27% in 2019. The abortion rate itself has mostly remained steady.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa president Terry Bellamak said, “Early abortions are better for people because they don’t have to remain pregnant as long. Also, the earlier the abortion, the safer it is. Reducing delay was a key benefit of removing abortion from the Crimes Act and treating it like all other health care. Actual reduction in delay, as expected, shows the new abortion system is working much better than the old one.”

Before the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, in order to access legal abortion patients had to obtain the approval of two certifying consultants, which could only be provided on certain grounds in the Crimes Act. This antiquated system created delays, causing New Zealand patients to receive abortion care much later than those in comparable countries.

Bellamak continued “The data also shows a big increase in the percentage of early medical abortions – 36% in 2020, up from 22% in 2019. This is partly because the new system allows patients to take the two sets of pills at home, 24 – 48 hours apart, as best practice requires. And it’s partly because the pandemic made it necessary for people to avoid going to a service if possible. Thanks to the new legislation, it was possible for the health system to provide abortion care during lockdown via telephone and Zoom.”

Because the old legislation was passed before early medical abortions existed, the old law required patients to take both sets of pills on the premises of the service, even if that meant having to travel long distances twice.

“Access will likely improve even further next year as more primary care practitioners, like midwives, nurse practitioners, and GPs take up the training to provide early medical abortions in primary care settings.

 “We still think the Ministry should keep track of the number of patients who had to be referred to the Ministry’s website because their health practitioner obstructs access to abortion of the basis of their own ‘conscience.’ It’s important to keep track of the problem to understand whether it is getting better or worse.

“Overall, the report shows that abortion care has improved in Aotearoa as a result of the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

NZHPA v Attorney General – ALRANZ Welcomes Decision

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa welcomes the High Court’s decision in NZ Health Professionals’ Alliance v Attorney-General, which upholds ss 14 and 15 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 (‘CSAA’), amended in the Abortion Legislation Act 2020.

Section 14 requires health practitioners to inform patients if they have a ‘conscientious objection’ to providing abortion care, and to inform them where to access the contact details of the nearest health practitioner who provides abortions.

Section 15 requires employers to accommodate health practitioners who obstruct access to reproductive health care, unless doing so would cause unreasonable disruption.

“The High Court has considered the case with evident care and clarity, and has found that neither section of the CSAA limits the NZHPA’s rights under the NZ Bill of Rights, and even if they did, it would be a justified limitation,” summarised Terry Bellamak, ALRANZ President.

“The High Court has taken the rights of pregnant people into its balancing of the rights in question, as we hoped it would.

“This judgment demonstrates the effect of treating abortion as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. People have a right to health care, and that right must be taken into consideration.

“This is a great outcome for the people of Aotearoa.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

ALRANZ Condemns Draconian Texas Anti-abortion Law

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa condemns Texas law SB 8, which prohibits abortion care after a ‘fetal heartbeat’ can be detected, at roughly 6 weeks gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Most pregnant people don’t even realise they are pregnant at that early stage.

“SB 8 is unconstitutional under US law as it now stands because of Roe v Wade, which is still good law in the USA,” said ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak. “By not blocking SB 8 from coming into force, the US Supreme Court has allowed an unconstitutional law to stand. This is way outside the norm.

“In the past, the Supreme Court would not make a decision of this importance without briefs and oral argument. This is so that justice can be administered transparently, and lower courts can apply the resulting legal precedent properly because they understand the court’s reasoning. But this Supreme Court has conducted much of its business on the ‘shadow docket’, outside normal scrutiny. This is an example.”

She went on, “SB 8 is different from previous attempts to ban abortion at the state level because it is enforced not by the state but by ordinary citizens who can sue anyone they allege has broken the law by assisting a person to access abortion care. That can include providing medical care, lending them the money for the procedure, or even just driving them to the clinic. Those accused could be required to pay their accuser up to $10,000.

 “No one knows what happens next, but it’s not looking good. Texas is in uncharted waters.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

ALRANZ Congratulates Western Australia on Safe Areas

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa congratulates the people of Western Australia on their state parliament’s establishment of safe access zones for people receiving abortion care. The state’s Public Health Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2021 will prohibit protesting 150 meters from abortion clinics. Now, every Australian state has a law allowing safe access zones.

The New Zealand Parliament is currently considering a member’s bill to establish safe areas around premises where abortion is provided. The Health Select Committee is due to report back on the bill on 10 September.

ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak said, “This is great news for Australia – harassment and intimidation outside abortion services perpetuates abortion stigma and traumatises people seeking safe, routine, legal health care. Pregnant people everywhere in Australia are now protected from being harassed by anti-abortion busybodies. Pregnant people in Aotearoa do not have the same protection. We need it.

“Louisa Wall’s safe areas bill would protect patients and providers from protest activity 150 meters from places where abortion is provided. But to make it workable, it needs one change – it must be changed to establish safe areas at all providers across the board from the start, just like the law in Western Australia does.

“Currently, the bill requires the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health to collaborate on an Order in Council to establish JUST ONE safe area. Each place where abortion is provided would need to apply separately, one at a time. It’s onerous and unworkable. It would leave far too many people unprotected.

“Over 2400 New Zealanders who signed ALRANZ’s petition asking for this change agree with us.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

Petition Calls for Automatic Safe Areas

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa will present a petition to MPs tomorrow 2 June 2021 at 1pm. The petition calls for the Health Select Committee to alter the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill to create safe areas automatically around all abortion services and clinics.

Louisa Wall’s member’s bill sets out a process that was removed from the Abortion Legislation Act 2020 by a Supplementary Order Paper. The process requires an Order in Council on the advice of both the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health to create just one safe area.

“The process in the bill is cumbersome and bureaucratic. It clearly intends safe areas to be created one at a time. It does not set out the application process or the criteria services must meet in order to get a safe area. Almost no other jurisdiction that has established safe areas has such a ridiculous process,” said ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak.

“Safe areas should be established automatically as soon as the bill is assented. Over 2400 people have signed on to the petition, and many organisations have echoed the call for automatic creation of safe areas in their submissions,” she added.

“People need to be able to access safe, routine, legal health care without having to run a gauntlet of bullies and busybodies.

“The select committee has heard the accounts of people accessing abortion services, and how they felt when protesters targeted them. Abortion patients should not be required to face down bullies in order to receive health care. No one else has to.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

Still No Self-referral at Timaru Abortion Service

Over a year after the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act 2020 made it illegal to require people to have a doctor’s referral in order to receive abortion care, South Canterbury DHB’s Timaru service still does not allow pregnant people to self-refer.

Timaru’s breach is revealed on the Ministry of Health webpage for South Canterbury. The page says self-referral will be available ‘in future’, but is not available at present.

“It’s astonishing that the Ministry of Health appears to be OK with this. The law is quite clear. Section 13 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 reads, ‘A qualified health practitioner may not, as a condition of providing abortion services to a woman, require the woman to be referred from a health practitioner.’ And yet that is precisely what appears to be happening in Timaru,” said ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa President Terry Bellamak.

“A year is a long time to allow the South Canterbury DHB to do this wrong. How many people have been delayed or even prevented from accessing abortion care because the Ministry is not enforcing the law?

“This is different from starting up new abortion services for the West Coast or Whanganui, both of which still lack an abortion service at all. This is not a case of starting something new, but rather stopping doing something that is now against the law. How much infrastructure can be needed to stop doing something?

“Yes, the Ministry is busy, but Covid is not a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card.”

New Zealand reformed its abortion laws in March of 2020, decriminalising the procedure and aligning it with other health care.

Parliament is currently considering Louisa Wall’s member’s bill to establish safe areas around abortion services. ALRANZ supports safe areas.