Recently, I had the privilege of hearing Dame Margaret Sparrow, pioneer in sexual health services, speak at the New Zealand Medical Student’s Association’s annual conference. It was inspiring to hear a woman speak so matter-of-factly and with such humility about a lifetime spent upturning the status quo in healthcare and advocating for reproductive equality. However it was a reminder that our job isn’t done - New Zealand still has much to do before we can say that ours is a country where people of all genders are treated equally. But there is one easy way we can make progress: abortion law reform. Here are five of the many reasons why we need to update our laws and why abortion has no place in the Crimes Act.
1. The laws are out of touch and out of date. Our laws are inconsistent with what is happening in current practice. Our healthcare system clearly sees abortion as a healthcare issue. This is because we know for a fact that when abortion was inaccessible legally, patients sought ways to have autonomy over their reproductive life, risking even death from sepsis. This is one of numerous reasons why the provision of safe abortions is an important healthcare matter - for as long as New Zealand has collected robust abortion data, we have not had a single death relating to an induced abortion.
2. The laws are costly and wasteful. It is ludicrous that we pay upwards of three million dollars in fees each year ($3,716,766 in the year ending on the 30th June 2016) to certifying consultants to determine that their patient’s situation meets the legal grounds for abortion (usually the grounds being that the pregnancy poses serious danger to the patient’s mental health). As a medical student I’ve had to shadow consultants, and not once has a patient seeking an abortion been turned away. The paperwork involved is bureaucratic inefficiency at its finest.
3. The laws do not reduce the number of abortions. In 2017, there were 13,285 abortions performed in New Zealand hospitals or licensed abortion clinics - 462 more than in the year before. If we want to reduce national abortion rates, more focus should be placed on preventing unplanned pregnancies. The current laws only cause inevitable delays in the system so that many patients receive abortions at later stages of pregnancy.
4. The laws create inequities. It is unjust that patients from vulnerable or rural backgrounds are disadvantaged due to the geographical variation in abortion services throughout Aotearoa. Particularly that some women will have to travel many hours to reach an abortion provider, often multiple times to obtain the needed sign-off from two certifying consultants.
5. The laws are disempowering and disregard the human rights of women. Our laws aren’t in accordance with international treaties (e.g. Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women) to which we are a signatory. The current laws are fundamentally discriminatory and disempowering as they do not entitle patients to make the decision on having an abortion despite pregnancy having everything to do with their body, their circumstances, and their life. We can do better.Support Villainesse