Maxim Institute’s Submission to the Abortion Legislation Bill
This submission was prepared by Danielle van Dalen, Gael Goulter and Jessie Duffin in response to the Parliamentary Select Committee’s request for submissions on the Abortion Legislation Bill 2019.
We are opposed to the Abortion Legislation Bill 2019. The Bill arose from a prior policy decision that abortion should be decriminalised and made to align with health law. As a result, it has not had the benefit of robust consideration of the wider ramifications of this policy shift. The combined effect of the Bill’s provisions will be to increase the risks to women accessing abortion services, to make late term abortions more easily accessible, and to unjustifiably infringe on the basic rights and freedoms of New Zealanders.
Decriminalising abortion and treating it as a health issue is not the appropriate response. The Bill’s objective of decriminalising women seeking abortions can be achieved by removing s.44 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977. Decriminalising abortion itself by removing criminal sanctions for providers of unlawful abortions goes too far. It is inconsistent with accepted legal and social treatment of the unborn child, and it weakens protections necessary to ensure a high standard of health care for women accessing abortion services.
- The Bill will increase the risks to women accessing abortion services.
- The Bill poses particular risks to vulnerable women accessing abortion services, such as minors, women who lack capacity to consent, and women who are being coerced into an abortion.
- The Bill deregulates abortion to such an extent that women could be exposed to greater risks from unsafe abortion practices.
- The Bill removes the protection and oversight that the Abortion Supervisory Committee provides, without sufficient justification.
- The Bill undermines the ability of women to give properly informed consent to an abortion.
The Bill does not provide enough protections around late term abortions. The Bill’s attempt to restrict abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation is too broad and essentially unenforceable. The Minister of Justice has stated that late term abortions are only intended for “very extreme circumstances.” To achieve this, the Bill should retain the current post-20 week test, limiting late term abortions to situations that are “necessary to save the life of the woman … or to prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.”
The Bill unjustifiably impacts on fundamental rights and freedoms.
- The Bill fails to restrict abortions sought solely on the grounds of the disability or sex of the unborn child.
- The Bill introduces “safe areas” which would limit the right to freedom of expression. There is simply not enough evidence to support such a provision.
- The Bill’s restrictions on freedom of conscience are an unjustified and concerning impingement on fundamental rights, requiring robust justification. Again, there is simply not enough evidence to support such a provision.
Further research is needed before advancing law reform. Although we oppose the Bill, we propose a number of recommendations to improve it, should it pass. However, we consider that the Bill should not be progressed any further without a Royal Commission of Inquiry to provide a thorough, grounded, nationwide investigation and report into all relevant matters relating to abortion law, as was the case last time we considered this kind of significant change.