Abortion Law Reform - What Does the Evidence Say?

While TOP doesn’t have a detailed position on abortion, the evidence suggests that the Government’s proposals are a sensible way forward. If anything they could go further.

Abortion is a can of worms that has remained stubbornly closed since the Contraception, Abortion and Sterilisation Act was passed in 1977. This current law effectively makes abortion a crime, unless it meets certain tests. A draft abortion law reform bill was approved by Cabinet yesterday and its first reading will be on Thursday. 

Whether or not abortions should be allowed is a pretty hot topic for some, with lots of value judgements mixed in. But if we stick to the facts what does the evidence say?

The Current Approach

At present pregnant people have to jump through a series of costly, time-consuming, often demeaning, medically-unnecessary hoops to get an abortion. The cumulative effect of these hoops are that:

  1. the vast majority of people getting abortions are forced to lie about their mental health,
  2. abortions are delayed by an average of 25 days, and
  3. poor people and those in remote areas find it hard to access abortion services. 

We can probably all agree that where abortions do happen they should happen as early and as safely as possible. The overseas evidence shows that if we want to reduce abortions that improving access to long-acting reliable contraception is the best way to do it. Banning them doesn't work. And in delaying those abortions that do happen, the current approach is clearly a failure. 

Proposed Changes

The proposed new law would remove any statutory test for someone under 20 weeks’ pregnant. That means abortions before 20 weeks will be like other health procedures: someone sees a health provider and they together work out the best course of action.

For someone more than 20 weeks’ pregnant, a heath practitioner will have to approve that the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant person’s physical and mental health, and wellbeing.

This new model is an improvement on the current system, as it will reduce the issues raised above. The concern from some is no doubt that it will increase the rate of abortions, but from the Canadian experience that hasn’t been the case.

However Family Planning, the APGANZ, Abortion Providers Group Aotearoa NZ, and ALRANZ, Abortion Rights Aotearoa recommend going further. They all agree that the Law Commission’s Model A, where abortion is covered by generic healthcare laws and doesn’t need a statutory test would be the best model. Model A aligns with the Canadian example discussed above.

What is the advantage of a more liberal model? In New Zealand 0.7% of abortions happen after 20 weeks. These are cases of wanted pregnancies, where the parents have either received devastating news about the health of the foetus or where the pregnant person’s health is seriously compromised. These are cases where the parents have been picking out baby names, getting baby clothes together, and have told their other children and their wider families how excited they are to welcome a new baby into their lives. The last thing these families need is to jump through medically-unnecessary hoops. 


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