Planned Parenthood rally / Charlotte Cooper / Flickr.
In case you missed it, New Zealand’s abortion laws are outdated. And finally, we might be seeing political action on the issue. Legislative reform should start next year, according to current plans. Talking about abortion will give airtime to some regressive ideas about reproductive rights, but there’s a bright side: abortion law is about to change. And we now have indications of what that change might look like.
The Law Commission was asked to look into health-based options for reform. Their report to the Ministry of Justice was released last week, and outlines three models that treat abortion as a health issue. Once a model for reform is decided on, the issue will go to a conscience vote, so MPs will be able to vote individually rather than with their parties.
Option A would allow people to access abortions with no statutory test. Option B involves a statutory test: a consultant has to certify that the patient’s wellbeing and mental health would be improved by the procedure. Lastly, Option C involves the same test as Option B for abortions after 22 weeks of gestation.
The problem with a test is that it relies on a connection between abortion and mental health. There’s no evidence to show that connection exists. What’s more, keeping a statutory test model affirms the idea that abortion is a form of wrongdoing that must be justified. It’s not. Anyone with a uterus has a right to make choices about their body and their health. A statutory test, at whatever stage it is implemented, second guesses that choice and allows other considerations to override self-determination.
A medical professional having the power to block an abortion is not a good system. Choices about accessing abortion should be made by the person who needs the abortion, not a medical professional who cannot know or fully understand their circumstances.
In my view, Option A is the best. The final decision to get an abortion should rest with the pregnant person, not with a statutory test that will be used to deny abortion to those who don’t ‘need’ it enough. If someone doesn’t want to be pregnant, they shouldn’t have to be. It’s that simple.
Whatever model the government decides to introduce, the ‘conscience vote’ on change will be decided by a group of mostly men. Women only make up 38% of New Zealand Parliament. Yes, our Parliament is a group of validly elected representatives. But I still don’t feel comfortable with men having the final say over women’s rights.
Debates about abortion are debates about reproductive rights for women. The decision is whether women have the right to choose or whether legislation based on a warped vision of morality should be able to override their choices. As these issues move into the political arena, we need to respect the real people behind the choice to have an abortion.
Abortion is going to be on the national stage. And that’s going to be painful. Everyone with a uterus will watch their rights being debated by people who don’t believe women can be trusted to make their own decisions. Anyone who has had an abortion will have the validity of their choice rejected. I can make those predictions with certainty because those are the premises of pro-life arguments.
For all that pain, law reform will be worth it. Treating abortion as a health issue is a necessary change that will improve abortion access. I hope that the proposed model will respect the right to choose rather than giving the final say to a consultant. But whatever the Bill requires, treating abortion as a health issue and moving it out of the Crimes Act is a step in the right direction. Our abortion law has been stagnant for a long time. Finally, change is on the horizon.Support Villainesse