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.