Home abor­tions safest, MPs told

Abor­tion com­mit­tee urges politi­cians to up­date ‘ar­chaic’ law

The New Zealand Herald - - NEWS - Derek Cheng

It would be safer for women hav­ing a med­i­cal abor­tion to take the medicine at home, rather than fol­low an ar­chaic law and travel to a clinic while po­ten­tially suf­fer­ing from bleed­ing, stom­ach pain or di­ar­rhoea, MPs have been told.

The Abor­tion Su­per­vi­sory Com­mit­tee (ASC), ap­pear­ing be­fore the jus­tice se­lect com­mit­tee yes­ter­day, made a plea for abor­tion law to be up­dated and for politi­cians to tackle the is­sue, not­ing it had been over three years since a min­is­ter last met the com­mit­tee.

Hours af­ter the com­mit­tee ap­pear­ance, Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drew Lit­tle said he would con­sult the Greens and NZ First be­fore for­mally ask­ing the Law Com­mis­sion to re­view the law, in­clud­ing look­ing at de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion.

Abor­tion is a po­lar­is­ing is­sue and Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said be­fore the elec­tion that she wanted to change the law and de­crim­i­nalise it.

The ASC chair ear­lier told MPs that chang­ing the 41-year-old law was a greater pri­or­ity than de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion.

Preg­nancy coun­sel­lor Carolyn McIl­raith, ap­pear­ing with the ASC, said that med­i­cal abor­tion meant tak­ing a pill at a reg­is­tered li­censed clinic, fol­lowed by a sec­ond dose in the same clinic 24 hours later.

“We can’t give it to her and al­low her to go home. She must re­turn to that clinic twice,” McIl­raith said.

Med­i­cal abor­tion ac­counted for 15 per cent of all abor­tions in 2016. It is avail­able for preg­nan­cies that are fewer than nine weeks. Af­ter that, surgery is re­quired.

ASC chair­woman Pro­fes­sor Dame Linda Hol­loway said that the re­quire- ment to be in a clinic was stress­ful, out­dated and un­nec­es­sary.

“[The sec­ond dose] takes ef­fect re­ally very quickly. If you’re try­ing to get back to some­where a few hours away on a bus, or if you were try­ing to drive your­self, and deal­ing with ab­dom­i­nal pain, bleed­ing and di­ar­rhoea, this is less than sat­is­fac­tory than if you could take the med­i­ca­tion in the com­fort and pri­vacy of your own home.”

Some ar­eas did not have reg­is­tered clin­ics close by, she said.

“If you are a woman from Dar­gav­ille or Kaikohe, any of the places in North­land that have lit­tle lo­cal hos­pi­tals, the very ded­i­cated peo­ple in Whangarei are not even able to ar­range for the woman to have it pre­scribed . . . in any of these smaller cen­tres.”

McIl­raith added that the safety risks of tak­ing the medicine was low.

“Less risk hav­ing a ter­mi­na­tion than hav­ing a baby cur­rently. That says a lot.”

Asked about en­abling women to take the doses at a more con­ve­nient fa­cil­ity, in­clud­ing a pri­vate home, Hol­loway said there was a range of op­tions.

“Some­one on a methadone pro­gramme can go to a spe­cially reg­is­tered phar­ma­cist and take the med­i­ca­tion and be ob­served tak­ing it, for ex­am­ple. There are var­i­ous ways the law could be mod­i­fied.”

But right at this mo­ment there were “zero” al­ter­na­tives.

In Bri­tain, MPs are now con­sid­er­ing leg­is­la­tion to al­low women to take abor­tion pills at home with­out fear of pros­e­cu­tion, af­ter ad­vice that the need to be in a clinic was “need­lessly in­tru­sive”.

New Zealand’s per capita abor­tion rate — 8.6 abor­tions per 1000 women aged 15 to 44 — is much lower than in Great Bri­tain and Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to the ASC’s an­nual re­port, New Zealand abor­tion rates fell each year since a peak in 2006, de­spite fears that more ser­vices would lead to higher num­bers. There were 18,382 abor­tions in 2007. In 2016, there were 12,823 — 1970 of which were med­i­cal abor­tions.

But there was a dis­pro­por­tion­ately high num­ber of abor­tions in Auck­land City, mainly be­cause of a lack of ser­vice op­tions in South Auck­land.

Hol­loway said the com­mit­tee had asked Coun­ties-Manukau DHB to set up a ser­vice, but to no avail.

The po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tude to abor­tion law was that it was broadly work­ing and that her com­mit­tee should ba­si­cally go away, she said.

Lit­tle said he hoped to have a re­port back from the Law Com­mis­sion by the end of the year.

Na­tional Party lead­er­ship con­tender Ju­dith Collins said that abor­tion law was work­ing as it should.

Less risk hav­ing a ter­mi­na­tion than hav­ing a baby cur­rently. That says a lot. Carolyn McIl­raith, preg­nancy coun­sel­lor

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