Pro-choice rally in Ireland / A Ryan / Flickr
It seems like New Zealand is falling behind. Irish citizens have spoken and they want abortion legalised. If you’re a kiwi who cares about women’s rights, you’re probably wondering ‘what about us?’ Abortion is undeniably still a crime in New Zealand. A lot of people seem to think that our abortion laws are ‘good enough’. They’re not.
The system doesn’t look broken from the surface. Most of the people who need abortions in New Zealand get them (despite the overly rigorous process). But it’s not all okay. Some are denied abortions because of the outdated law currently in place.
In the last decade, 1500 women were told that their reasons for termination did not justify an abortion. We don’t know what those reasons were. But under the current statute, even rape cannot fully justify an abortion.
Serious danger to mental health, on the other hand, is a full justification. In 2014, 97% of abortions were given on that basis. That’s because doctors are trying to find reasons where abortions would technically be illegal. This ‘lie’, about concerns for the patient’s mental health, is necessary to legally give an abortion. Medical professionals are trying to help patients within an overly restrictive process where the focus is on ticking the right boxes.
The procedure for justifying abortions is set out in the Crimes Act, right next to the section dealing with grievous bodily harm. Apparently, Parliament thinks it’s important for women to know that what could be one of the most difficult decisions of their lives is morally equivalent to extreme violence. Can we really claim that the system is not broken?
Women and doctors should not have to lie (or at least, manipulate the truth) in order to allow access to a medical procedure. If people had to do the same thing in order to access other forms of urgent surgery, no one would be trying to tell us that the system works. Abortion is a health issue, not a crime.
There is no cost to anyone if abortion is legalised. In effect, legalising abortion would actually save taxpayers money, as so-called ‘certifying consultants’ would likely no longer be needed. Fundamentally, removing it from the Crimes Act is symbolic. Pro-life advocates can be left to their beliefs, but they shouldn’t be able to restrict other people’s actions. By legalising abortion, an inefficient, harmful process would be streamlined and made easier for both patients and doctors alike.
The current status of abortion encourages moral judgments. At the prospect of law reform (based on Labour’s promise), groups such as Voice for Life planned displays which are overtly intended to guilt women who have had abortions. Leaving abortion in the Crimes Act, which was written in 1961, legitimises their regressive attitude and keeps our law in the mid-20th century.
The current system exists because politicians are too scared to change it. Abortion is seen as a divisive political issue, and that’s the problem. Maybe the landslide majority in Ireland can show New Zealand politicians that voters are ready for progress. Politics should not stand in the way of women’s health and freedom.
This is not Jacinda Ardern vs Simon Bridges. It’s whether guaranteed access to an important medical procedure is worth more than the beliefs of some pro-life voters. It’s time to reform abortion law, whatever the political cost.Support Villainesse