New Zealand activists push for reform of ‘cruel’ abortion laws
Advocacy group files discrimination complaint alleging that legal framework on terminations breaches human rights
An abortion advocacy group in New Zealand has laid a discrimination complaint alleging New Zealand’s strict abortion laws breach the human rights of pregnant people, and subject them to “ritual humiliation”.
As experts prepare to hand down a major review into the country’s controversial abortion laws later this month, ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa has teamed up with five women who have experienced difficulties and emotional pain in accessing abortions in bringing their complaint to the country’s human rights commission.
Under New Zealand law, abortion is a crime and legal only in cases of incest, “mental subnormality” or fetal abnormality, or where the physical or mental health of the mother would be seriously affected by having a child. Other factors that may be taken into consideration but are not grounds in themselves include “sexual violation” and “extremes of age”.
The joint complaint alleges that pregnant women suffer “demonstrably worse treatment than other people seeking health care” when accessing abortions, and experience “hurt feelings, loss of dignity, and cruel, degrading, and disproportionately severe treatment”.
Terry Bellamak, national president of ALRANZ is awaiting the findings of a Law Commission review of the laws.
Bellamak said if the review’s recommendations for reform did not go far enough her team would consider taking their complaint to the United Nations.
“The experience of the women who have joined us in this complaint are very similar stories of being refused an abortion by your GP. Of consciously lying to access an abortion, because there is no way around it. Of undergoing a ritual humiliation to get your abortion,” said Bellamak.
“It is an arbitrary and unpredictable process, because in New Zealand you do not have a right to abortion, it is an act of discretion on the part of the certifying consultant.”
Justice minister Andrew Little wrote to the law review in February seeking advice on how to amend New Zealand’s abortion laws to ensure they are treated “as a health issue” rather than a criminal issue.
Anyone seeking an abortion in New Zealand must obtain approval from two medical consultants, who must attest that the women’s health is in “serious danger” by allowing the pregnancy to continue, either physically or mentally.
The process also takes a long time – an average of 25 days – with the risks associated with abortion rising as the pregnancy continues.
Bellamak said 98 to 99 per cent of the abortions that are granted in New Zealand are done so on mental health grounds. But because abortion remained under the Crimes Act, it increased stigma and made women less likely to access it.
“The New Zealand landscape is quite rugged, and distances and travel times can be very high, and access to abortion is not good enough for women in New Zealand. There are no abortion services on the west coast for example. Decriminalising abortion would make it easier to tackle issues like access more openly.”
Last year before becoming prime minister Jacinda Ardern said abortion should be decriminalised.