NZ Abortion Law

It may surprise many readers, but abortion is actually a serious crime in New Zealand. The Crimes Act 1961 states that anyone carrying out an abortion may be imprisoned for up to 14 years. This is perfectly consistent with law throughout much of history, as abortion has generally been a crime. It was also a crime in our former Offences Against The Person Act 1866, a copy of the same British law from 1861 (read it here) – in this law abortion was punishable by “penal servitude for life”. Even back in the old Jewish law, anyone who caused an abortion had to pay the father whatever he demanded as compensation (Exodus 21:22).

Let me stress this – abortion is, and always has been, a serious crime.

However, subsequent to 1961, abortion has been allowed under very limited circumstances, under the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, which also added section 187A to the Crimes Act.

  • Any abortion must be signed off by 2 certifying consultants
  • Abortion is only allowed if:
    • Continuing the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the mother.
    • The child is likely to be severely handicapped.
    • The child is the result of incest or rape.
  • Abortion is not allowed after 20 weeks gestation except to save the life of the mother or prevent “serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health”.
  • The woman MUST be advised of her right to seek counselling from any appropriate person or agency.
  • It is illegal for any woman to procure her own miscarriage.

The intent of this law was obviously to allow abortion only under specific severe circumstances, where it is believed to be the lesser of two evils. Abortion is still illegal, however abortion practitioners have an immunity from prosecution when conducting an abortion under certain circumstances.

However despite this, we now effectively have abortion on demand, and one of the highest abortion rates in the world. This is because the excuse of “mental health” is being used as a catch-all reason for abortion. I understand around 98% of NZ abortions are for the reason of “mental health”.

This practice is probably illegal. Right to Life has taken the Abortion Supervisory Committee to court over this, and earlier this year Justice Millar ruled that, in his own words:

There is reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants. Indeed, the Committee itself has stated that the law is being used more liberally than Parliament intended.

This decision is being appealed by the Crown (so Right to Life is paying for the Crown’s legal costs through their taxes, then has to come up with their own legal costs too… but that’s another issue). But if it is upheld, this could cause a major shakeup in our abortion system.

Just ensuring that the current law was administered correctly, and abortion was only provided where it would actually prevent great harm to the mother, would probably dramatically decrease NZ’s abortion rate. This can be achieved with little or no change to current law. That is not to say we can’t do better, I will address that later. But even within the current law, if applied correctly, we should not have abortion on demand. Abortion is a serious crime.

14 Responses to “NZ Abortion Law”

  1. Chuck Bird Says:

    Samuel, I will partly carry over the discussion from the “The morality of abortion”.
    I do not believe it possible discuss purely logically the morality of abortion.

    Below is the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer

    “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

    I am not religious but I believe it is a good philosophy to follow.

    You say

    “Just ensuring that the current law was administered correctly, and abortion was only provided where it would actually prevent great harm to the mother, would probably dramatically decrease NZ’s abortion rate. This can be achieved with little or no change to current law.”

    There is no way this will happen. I gave you an example in the other thread. I will repeat it below.

    “I remember many years ago when I joined a fathers group shortly after my marriage ended someone thought his wife should not be entitled to the DPB. The legislation was worded that a woman was entitled to the DPB if she lost the support of her spouse – it might have even been husband in those days. He argued that she had not lost the support but rejected it. He won his case either in the High Court or the Court of Appeal.”

    If the decision gets as upheld in the Court of Appeal the Crown will appeal it to the Supreme Court. If it looks likely that the Supreme Court will also uphold the decision there will quickly be an amendment rushed through Parliament.

    Are you aware that John Key is very liberal on many moral issues? He is also very street smart and aware of the relative strength of different lobby groups. The feminists lobby is very strong. There is no way that the abortion rate will be reduced by this court case from 18,000 to say under 1,000.

    I do not believe that a 4 to 10 week embryo or foetus is a human being and should have all the rights of a human being. I also believe that people such as you who disagree do so out of religious convictions. If that were not the case there would be atheist and/or agnostics involved with Right to Life or other similar organisations. I do not believe there are any.

    You believe that such debates can be won by logic. I note you have degree in science. Can you not accept that there are other people more qualified in science who would disagree with you? If you want change society politically I suggest you look at Bill English. He probably has views similar to you because of his religious beliefs. He no doubt realises that debates like you wish to engage are pointless if not counterproductive. I would suggest seeking advice from him.

    If you seriously hope to have a politically influence you will have to accept that sometimes people hold different ethical and moral views and that they are highly unlikely to be resolved by debate.

    Maybe when it becomes clear that count action will not achieve it aims you might look a other practical way abortions can be reduced particularly late abortions.

  2. Mr Dennis Says:

    Unfortunately, you may well be right about whether the court case will ultimately succeed in reducing abortion numbers. What do you propose is done instead?

    “Are you aware that John Key is very liberal on many moral issues?” Yes, unfortunately.

    “I do not believe that a 4 to 10 week embryo or foetus is a human being and should have all the rights of a human being.”
    Why do you believe this? What is your justification for that belief? I have given a strong scientific backing to my point of view, do you have any reasons behind your viewpoint? Or is it just blind faith?

    “I also believe that people such as you who disagree do so out of religious convictions.”
    I have told you why I believe it – because of biology and logic. You can disbelieve me if you like, but I know my own thoughts better than you do! Furthermore there are plenty of atheists who are pro-life. Christianity teaches you should have a concern for the disadvantaged, so many Christians are pro-life, but that does not mean all pro-lifers are Christian. There is a good article here, by an atheist, explaining why atheists should be pro-life:

    Just to completely blow apart the notion that all pro-lifers are bible-bashing Christians, here are a few pro-life organisations from all kinds of backgrounds:
    The Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League:
    Libertarians for Life:
    Pagans for Life:
    The Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians:

  3. Chuck Bird Says:

    Samuel, I stand corrected in regard atheists and agnostics views on abortion. I should have known better than to generalise. I checked the site. I was unable to find if any of them differentiated between very early and very late term abortions as I do.

    I guess you are also aware many Christians support abortion depending on circumstances. I imagine some even hold the belief that it is a matter solely between a woman and her doctor. I think Obama calls himself a Christian but support partial birth abortion which I view as totally wrong. As well as that I fail to understand any reason why is deemed necessary except in some rare case where it could be a choice beteen a mother and the baby.

    I view an embryo or foetus as a potential human being as opposed to a human being. I believe the dictionary supports my view.

    As I have stated many times my personal view is unimportant aside for the belief that in a democracy any significant change to abortion should have to be decided a general referendum and not by MPs conscience.

    There are some areas I would suggest would reduce the rate of abortion. The first would be support of marriage. There would be a few cases of married couple using abortion in the case of contraceptive failure but I doubt if there would be many. Marriage has of course many other benefits to the children, the couple and society in general.

    I would also recommend truthful sex education in schools. From what I have heard abortion is almost promoted as backup contraceptive. Underage children should not be told it is best of delay sex but if you do not think you can manage that here are the condoms.

    It above areas Key is very liberal but I think you would find a lot more public support.

    One last question is if you could write the abortion laws would adult women who have an illegal abortion be prosecuted?

  4. ZenTiger Says:

    Chuck, you are using the wrong terminology.

    A fetus is a human being basically from conception. You cannot argue that a fetus isn’t human. It certainly isn’t a dog, and the only issue is a stage of development, not its DNA.

    I think what you are trying to argue is based on “person hood”, and you are saying a fetus isn’t to be considered a person until a particular point in development (and here we can argue a huge range).

    As SJ Dennis suggests – the argument against abortion is easily made without bringing a religious view into it. I have other sources in addition to those above.

    If you want to get a scare in the other direction, you should check out the people that argue babies can morally be killed up to three months after birth (or longer). The argument moves away from person hood, to self awareness or some argue quality of life. Both take society in directions best not stepped.

  5. Chuck Bird Says:

    Zen, we can argue semantics but we will not get far. See definition below.

    a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth

    I do not know if you followed my debate on another thread but the point I have been trying to make is that there is no way a small group can force abortion laws against powerful lobby groups and the vast majority of the population.

    I would be interested to know if many non religious people view the destruction of a human embryo the moral equivalent of the brutal murder of a young child or even a very late term abortion.

    Do you believe that the court case described in Samuel’s post is going to bring down the abortion rate by 98%?

  6. Mr Dennis Says:

    Chuck, all that definition means is that before then it is officially called an embryo. It is you who are arguing semantics, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you call it – the biological facts remain, and it is biology we must base our decisions on, not dictionary definitions of English words.

    “I view an embryo or foetus as a potential human being as opposed to a human being.” – Why? Saying a dictionary calls it a “developing human” doesn’t cut it, for one thing that definition actually defines the foetus as human (not a “potential human”) so doesn’t back up your point at all, secondly it is just a dictionary as I just stated.

    You have yet to answer why you hold the views you do.

    Having said that, I agree with you that promoting marriage would help a lot. Having honest sex ed is desperately needed, we are paying through our tax for children to be blatantly lied to (I know, I went through it fairly recently myself).

    On the question of whether I would see women prosecuted, I see no purpose in a law that you never intend to enforce. If an issue is serious enough to have a law about, it is serious enough to prosecute breaches of the law, otherwise the law is a farce.

  7. Chuck Bird Says:

    You have yet to answer why you hold the views you do.

    Samuel, the reason I will not get drawn into such a debate is that it will achieve nothing.

    You appear to believe that someone having an early abortion (6 to 8 weeks) is doing something as morally wrong as the low lifes who murdered Nia Glassie. I strongly disagree but think debating this issue will not result in either of us changing our view.

    There is an article below by a homosexual lobbyist. There is not much I would agree with Craig Young on. However, I generally agree with what he says in his article.

    If conservative individuals or groups what to achieve anything politically they should concentrate on things they agree on not argue about things they disagree on.

    Some years ago someone asked me to contribute to a court case initiated by David Lane of the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards. The case was about over turning a ruling by homosexual activist Video Censor, Bill Hasting about as so called anti gay video. I contributed a small amount. Unfortunately the case was lost in the High Court. I then contributed a little more for an appeal. This time we were successful.

    I did not know David at the time. Subsequently we became friends. We agree on many moral issues but certainly not all. His view on abortion is much closer to yours than mine. We get on just fine by agreeing to disagree. However, we are much older than you.

    With respect you may have a science degree but you are somewhat lacking negotiating skills.

    I would recommend reading “Getting to Yes”

    Basically it explains you generally have to make a choice between achieving what you want or proving that you are right. You can seldom achieve both.

    Do you want people to support a number of political issues of convict as many people as possible that you view on abortion is right and theirs is wrong.


    Family First: A Reality Check

    Posted in: Comment
    By Craig Young – 18th November 2008

    Right, it’s high time that Christian Right pressure group Family First had a reality check, and I intend to be the one who provides it.

    Firstly, Family First claimed that their pro-belting activism somehow produced a favourable election result for the National Party. Really? Remember, there was a net outflow of nine social conservatives- Judy Turner (UFNZ), Gordon Copeland (Kiwi Party), Taito Philip Field (Pacific Party) and the seven New Zealand First MPs- five of which voted against the final reading of the Section 59 Repeal Act. Turner, Copeland and Field voted against it as well.

    The Pacific Party, Family Party and Kiwi Party all argued that Section 59 Repeal was the major election issue, but the Family Party and Pacific Party got less than 0.33 percent apiece, and at 0.56 percent, the Kiwi Party was only just in front of the avowedly satirical Bill and Ben Party (0.51 percent) at 0.56 percent of the total party vote.

    As well as that, Family First’s own ‘value voters’ website indicates that United Future and New Zealand First were the most socially conservative parties in Parliament, yet apart from Peter Dunne, they were almost completely annihilated. Moreover, defeating Harry Duynhoven, Labour’s New Plymouth MP and outspoken social conservative, does strike one as somewhat of an own goal. It means that Maungakiekie’s Peseta Sam Lotu’Liga is the only real social conservative gain that wasn’t unambiguous.

    So, no, social conservatism was not responsible for the election result. It was probably a combination of National’s larger tax cut bribe, Labour’s negative campaigning, and concern about global economic turmoil, as well as the albatross that was the New Zealand First confidence and supply arrangement. Bread and butter issues always outrank ‘post-materialist’ concerns like the belting debate. Added to that, there’s the incumbency fatigue variable. Since Keith Holyoake stepped down in 1972, no Labour or National Prime Minister has served a fourth term in New Zealand politics. Third terms tend to be recessional phases when a resurgent Opposition prepares to take office, and the last three years have been no exception.

    Secondly, I want to deal with the Electoral Finance Act. It is absolute nonsense to state that the Electoral Finance Act somehow stifled democratic debate within New Zealand. The EFA did not stop Family First from establishing its Value Your Vote website, and probably saved them money, given that they didn’t have to distribute the pamphlets which the website was based on. Obstruction? Denial of free speech? Where, exactly? I see Russell Brown agrees with me on this one.

    As for the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s claims to the contrary, I’m getting rather tired of their partisanship. They are cutting their own throats in the event that a Labour/Green coalition takes power in 2011, and have become a social conservative pressure group, rather than the nonpartisan victims rights advocates that they once were. It’s a shame, because I support most of their core objectives.

    Earth to Bob. Sorry, guys- the rumours of your political influence are much exaggerated…

  8. Chris O'Brien Says:


    You are slipping into the trap of moral relativism when you deny the unborn child (from conception), the right to life.

    You claim that the killing of an early term foetus is not equivalent to the murder of a late term foetus. It smacks to me of Orwells “Some pigs are more equal than others”.

    Once it becomes legal to destroy human life at any stage, then all human life is in danger. What is to stop us from now legislating for infanticide, if there is something we don’t like about the condition of newly born infant?

    What is there to stop us saying that an old person in a hospital or someone who is expensive to treat medically can not be killed or left to die? (in fact are not we doing this already?) Haven’t we set the precedent? Having decided that one form of human life is not sacrosanct then why not? Surely it is pragmatic and becomes a matter decided by expediency?

    What is to stop further inclinations to kill? The only thing I can think of is the reluctance of the bulk of the people that make up any society? But if society is being gradually conditioned (as I believe is happening now) to accept that certain classes of human beings can be legally killed, then what is to stop the next generation thinking it perfectly acceptable to kill the disabled say or people of a certain race, or colour? Far fetched? Not at all, it has all happened before. What is worrying is that while previously these sort of things were aberrations, soon they could become the norm.

    The Hippocratic Oath, traditionally taken by physicians pertaining to the ethical practice of medicine date back to the fourth century BC. Part of this oath states, “I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy”. When society dumps the ethical standards that have survived millennia, then society is in trouble.

  9. Chuck Bird Says:

    Chris, I tried unsuccessfully to post a response to Samuel. If you followed my posts on a couple of threads I have stated that I feel debating the morality of abortion usually achieves very little. Discussing possible legislation governing abortion seems more useful. Samuel has now strted a thread to do just that.

  10. Mr Dennis Says:

    Chris, your post was caught by the spam filter, sorry about that, it must be because we are discussing a sexual topic. It is up now.

    That Wikipedia reference is very good, thanks for that. I certainly see your distinction between debating positions and negotiating an outcome.

    When I am discussing morality, I am not trying to negotiate an outcome, I am discussing the views each of us has and attempting to persuade others through logic. The “Getting to Yes” reference is therefore irrelevant – I am not interested in negotiating a compromise.

    When I am discussing the law, then I am working out a compromise position that we can practically implement. In this case that reference is completely relevant, and is actually very helpful – thankyou. You will find we agree on many aspects of what the law should be as a result, despite our differing moral views.

  11. Chuck Bird Says:

    Samuel, thank you for sorting out my posting your blog. You got my name confused with Chris. That confused me for a minute.

    People arrive at their moral values in different ways. Most Christians arrive at their values on their interpretation of the Bible often with the help of their particular church.

    I believe many non Christians arrive at certain basic values as being self evident. If one did not accept some values as self evident then a logical debate could not prove that murder is wrong. Some anarchist may fall in this category.

    Through many years experience I find debating moral arguments with devout Christians unproductive. I subscribe to Ian Wishart’s Investigate and have bought a couple of his books. I am sure if we both did an IQ test he would score higher than me. He is a very able competent person. However, I think he quite wrong in thinking that he can prove Christianity through logic. Ian might be intelligent but there are more intelligent atheists and agnostics with good science backgrounds who he would not be able to convert. I believe as do many of many of my Christian friends that much of Christian belief comes down to faith. We both respect each other beliefs or lack of them.

    Getting back to my post Craig Young has a good point. That is Christian party or group of Christian parties is very unlike to reach 5% or gain a electorate seat.

    I will now post to your latest thread concerning possible law changes that may reduce the number of abortions.

  12. Mr Dennis Says:

    Sorry Chuck! I’m not trying to prove Christianity through logic. Although it is possible to an extent, at the end of the day it comes back to faith. Rather I am trying to back up my view on abortion, which is shared by many people both Christian and non-Christian, through logic.

  13. Abortion increases mental health problems « Samuel Dennis Says:

    […] increases mental health problems December 2, 2008 — Mr Dennis I have discussed previously how most abortions in NZ are authorised on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy would result […]

  14. Johne477 Says:

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