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.