Waikato Times

Abortion bill tweaks accepted

- Henry Cooke henry.cooke@stuff.co.nz

The legal test for abortions after 20 weeks has been made more restrictiv­e in the proposed abortion legalisati­on bill.

The bill was reported back from its special select committee yesterday with several changes that Justice Minister Andrew Little will accept. The bill is likely to pass easily early on this year as it sailed through its first reading, 94 votes to 23. Abortion is a conscience issue, meaning MPs are free to vote independen­tly of their party.

The bill decriminal­ises abortion and removes any legal test for abortions prior to 20 weeks.

Currently those seeking an abortion before 20 weeks require certificat­ion from two consultant­s that having a child would damage their physical or mental health, and a more stringent test for post-20 weeks. Under the new law there would still be a legal test for abortions that occur after 20 weeks – a tiny minority of abortions.

Originally this test was to be that a doctor believed it was necessary to preserve the wellbeing of the mother. Under the new test that medical practition­er would have to consult another medical practition­er. The committee was lobbied to beef up the test by opponents of abortion and to remove it altogether by those wanting to further liberalise it. ‘‘However, most of us were persuaded by submission­s from several abortion providers.

‘‘They told us that abortions after 20 weeks are only performed when there is a compelling clinical need, after extensive consultati­on between a woman and her health practition­ers.

‘‘The majority of these abortions are for fetal anomalies, which may not be identified until the routine ultrasound at 18-20 weeks.’’

Another change to the test expands the definition of the ‘‘wellbeing’’ of the mother to take in ‘‘overall wellbeing’’. ‘‘This would reflect that wellbeing can encompass more than just physical and mental health,’’ the report said.

Other areas of the bill came through with minor changes, such as safe zones outside clinics where protest could be banned and conscienti­ous objection measures.

The director-general of health will also be required to semiregula­rly report on the accessibil­ity of services around the country.

ACT Party leader David Seymour, who supports the bill and sat on the select committee, opposed the safe zones.

There was a push by Green MP Jan Logie to change the term ‘‘women’’ in the bill to ‘‘pregnant person’’. This was not achieved and a section of the bill defining ‘‘women’’ as any person able to become pregnant was deleted.

National MP Agnes Loheni and Labour MP Anahila Kanongata’aSuisuiki voted against the bill at first reading and were on the select committee, with Loheni providing a minority report against the bill.

‘‘This bill, if enacted, will severely breach and irreparabl­y damage the ‘sanctity of life’ principle which has been a cornerston­e of New Zealand’s common law,’’ Loheni wrote.

Most (91.6 per cent) of the 25,776 submission­s received were against the bill.

NZ First MPs have now predicated their support of the bill on a referendum being attached, as it was for the End of Life Choice bill.

NZ First MP Darroch Ball has filed an amendment to this effect but it is unlikely to pass as most MPs do not believe a referendum is appropriat­e.

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