The Effects of Decriminalising Abortion

The Effects of Decriminalising Abortion

by Terry Bellamak

New Zealand is finally discussing abortion law reform. One of the first items of business on the government’s agenda is taking abortion out of the Crimes Act. This promises to make abortion easier to access, reduce delays, and reduce the unwarranted stigma around a procedure that is safe, routine health care.

Some folk have expressed a concern that taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will somehow make abortion less safe for people who decide to receive abortion care. 

In its comprehensive report on law reform, the New Zealand Law Commission considered the matter and concluded that fear was unfounded, for the following reasons:

  • All other health services are sufficiently protected by the health regulatory regime and by general offences in the Crimes Act. There is no reason abortion should be any different.
  • There are two groups of people whose actions are currently criminalised in relation to providing abortion care. Both would still meet with serious consequences for providing abortion care improperly even after abortion is taken out of the Crimes Act.
    • Health practitioners who provide abortion care without being qualified to do so, or who do not meet proper standards of care are subject to professional disciplinary action, and could also be charged with regulatory offences under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act or the Medicines Act. If they are negligent or fail to get informed consent from their patient, they could be charged with a criminal offence.
    • Unqualified people who attempt to provide abortion care can be charged with regulatory offences under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act or the Medicines Act, and their conduct may also constitute assault, injury, or wounding depending on whether the woman suffers actual bodily harm, and thus could be charged under the Crimes Act. 

It’s difficult to see how safety would be compromised if abortion care were regulated the same way as other medical care. Abortion care is very safe, and the earlier it is received the safer it is. Eliminating the delays our current laws promote would enable people to get abortion care earlier and thus more safely.

The report also makes the point that: 


Criminal offences are used to punish conduct that causes social harm and is considered morally reprehensible or inconsistent with important social values.

This treatment is inconsistent with treating abortion care as a health issue. Our current legal regime hypocritically criminalises abortion care while simultaneously fostering the practice of providing abortion in most cases, albeit in a manner that is cumbersome, patronising, and needlessly punitive.

By leaving this ridiculous system in place for over 40 years, Parliament has established it as the status quo. To try and pass off abortion care as morally reprehensible or inconsistent with important social values, Parliament would be making a liar of itself.

Taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will make abortion care safer, not less so.

Vote Choice: The Final Round-Up

vote-for-choice-round_1To round off our Vote Choice series, this week we profile the remaining party leaders; a veritable mix bag regarding their position on abortion ranging from the Green’s recent policy on decriminalisation to the not-quite-sure to the status quo – it’s a conscientious vote stupid! OK, so might have oversold it as a range; it is pretty much Greens with a policy to decriminalise, and the rest of the parties who don’t have any policies on the issue (although there were positive murmurings from Internet as posted a few weeks back).

As we have said before – broken record, we know – a conscientious vote makes politicians’ opinions even more important. They have a conscience that will steer their vote. So shouldn’t you as voter know where they stand? We think so (Maggie Barry not so much – yup had to take a bit of a swipe after she flat out refused to provide ALRANZ with her stance at the Women’s Election Forum in Auckland).

The Green Party – the leaders in abortion law reform.

We have written elsewhere about our excitement about the Green’s policy on law reform, which is why they haven’t featured in this series before (or we saved the best for last!). The Green Party is streets above in terms of having an explicit policy on decriminalising abortion. This has been contextualised within their party’s wider women’s health policy, which has some great stuff on disability rights, sexuality and reproduction.

The voting history of co-leaders Dr Russell Norman and Metiria Turei would suggest they are also personally supportive (although that does not matter as much now because they have a policy to comply with – yea!).

Turei has more of a voting record than Norman, who was only in Parliament for the last vote on the newest Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) member. Turei is unsurprisingly checks across our board – voting against any attempts by conservative MPs to make parental notification mandatory for under 16s and against anti choice appointments to the ASC.

Te Ururoa Flavell /Māori Party- The unknown quantity

The new leader of the Māori Party, Te Ururoa Flavell, has a mixed voting recording on abortion (he didn’t answer Family First’s question on either parental notification or decriminalisation abortion, which highlights again the willingness of politicians to not publicly state their opinion on an issue that would be a conscious vote). We do know that former leader, Tariana Turia, was not a proponent of law reform and we hope Flavell will not take her lead.

By way of some background, in 2011 three Bay of Plenty ALRANZ members met with Flavell to discuss then MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed private member’s bill to decriminalise abortion, and try to enlist his backing. At that meeting, ALRANZ didn’t get a commitment to support decriminalisation, and our members’ feeling was that Flavell probably tends conservative, primarily because of cultural concerns (he spent time on the matter of the whanau raising children born after unplanned or unwanted pregnancies), though he also asked lots of good questions and listened to their answers.

Flavell is two for two in voting liberal and conservative on abortion-related topics. He has voted twice to appoint Dr Ate Moala to the ASC (once in 2007 and again in 2011), a known anti-choice doctor. However, he then voted against the appointment of another anti choice doctor Dr Peter Hall and then voted to appoint Rosy Fenwicke, Patricia Allan and Linda Holloway to the ASC. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really tell us much…

Peter Dunne/United Future – not sure we are entirely united on the future

As part of this year’s election (and some of the great resources available to voters to gauge candidate’s stance on the issues) we asked the following question on Ask Me:

Do you support the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act?”

Only one party responded and that was United Future, or more specifically, Damian Light, a candidate for United Future. He said the following:

“We don’t have a policy on this, so it would be a conscience vote for United Future MPs”.

A return to the good ole conscientious vote… Since Peter Dunne is the only United Future MP, let’s have a look at his record… He has checks as a liberal for all votes he has been there for, except for voting in favour of parental notification in 2004. This aligns with Family First’s polling of Dunne, who gets a happy face for parental notification but a sad face for decriminalising abortion. Bit lackluster, we know.

And that is all from us on the major political parties and their leaders. Obviously abortion is not the defining issue in this campaign, but with some strong supporters along with the middle of the roaders we hold onto hope that change is never more than an election cycle away.

In 2014, Vote Choice.

VOTING RECORD: Click here to download a pdf of our “MPs Voting Record Since 1990

Click here for all the posts in the Vote Choice Series.