New Zealand Is Pro-choice on Abortion

This Opinion piece is by Terry Bellamak, National President of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ)

It’s official. This government is out of step with New Zealanders on abortion. Bill English has made his views clear.

As a devout Catholic, he opposes decriminalising abortion. But the people he hopes will vote for him later this year think differently.* The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) recently commissioned a poll on attitudes to abortion to find out two things:

· do New Zealanders have an accurate sense of how common terminations of pregnancy are?

· under what circumstances do New Zealanders believe abortion should be legal?

First, most Kiwis don’t realise how common abortion is. About one in four New Zealand women have an abortion at some point in their lifetime. Nearly two out of five people underestimated that, with only 14% getting it right. This result may be rooted in the stigma that still surrounds abortion. People who have had abortions may not feel safe talking about it. Some survey respondents may think they don’t know anyone who has had an abortion when in fact they know several who just don’t feel they can talk about it with the respondent.

Stigma is not self-created. It comes from our culture, where it is socially acceptable for elderly men to confront women trying to access abortion with gory signs and disapproving stares. Where it is legally and socially acceptable for a doctor to refuse to prescribe contraception, or refer a patient for a termination. Where abortion is still a crime listed in the Crimes Act.

Second, New Zealanders support greater availability of abortion than the current law allows. The survey presented people with a range of circumstances in which someone might terminate a pregnancy, from medical grounds (“Pregnant woman is likely to die without an abortion”) to choice (“Pregnant woman doesn’t want to be a mother”). In every case, a majority said abortion should be legal.

These numbers demonstrate New Zealanders overwhelmingly support abortion on request. It’s not even close.

So why can’t we change the system? Since we know we want abortion on request, why can’t we have a system that is cost effective instead of wasting money on certifying consultants? Why can’t we have a system that doesn’t force patients to waste time running around getting approvals, necessitating more complicated and expensive procedures? Why can’t we have a system that puts the patients’ welfare first, instead of prioritising a box-ticking exercise to satisfy a 40-year old abortion bureaucracy?

Don’t ask the Ministry of Health. The abortion bureaucracy comes under the Ministry of Justice. Because abortion is still a crime. The current system serves everyone poorly. It’s not good enough. We need to decriminalise abortion, and reform our antiquated abortion laws, whether Bill English wants to admit it or not.

Editor’s Note : These articles published previously on Werewolf/Scoop are suggested for further reading :

* Editor’s further note : Since being elected PM, Bill English has said he will not use the office to influence public opinion on divisive issues such as abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage.