Parliament’s Abortion Legislation Committee delivered its report on the proposed new abortion laws on 14 February 2020. New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops responded with a statement on 19 February.
The bishops are concerned unborn babies will lose their existing tenuous legal rights if Parliament passes the Abortion Legislation Bill in the form proposed by a select committee.
And unborn babies with a fetal disability will have even less protection than under the current law.
Speaking on behalf of the bishops, Ms Cynthia Piper, a Catholic lecturer with the Church’s Te Kupenga – Catholic Leadership Institute, says, ‘It is a major failing of the proposed new law there will no longer be any statutory requirement to consider the rights of the unborn child. That is totally unacceptable to the bishops and many New Zealanders’.
Parliament’s Abortion Legislation Select Committee – set up to hear public submissions on a bill to replace New Zealand’s existing abortion laws – has recommended enacting a new law based on the Law Commission’s ‘Model C’, one of three alternatives the commission suggested in a 2018 report to the Government.
‘Model C as adopted by the select committee removes the need for any statutory tests for an abortion up to 20 weeks gestation, effectively introducing abortion on demand,’ Ms Piper said.
For pregnancies of more than 20 weeks gestation, a health practitioner would need to reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and well-being. But Ms Piper says the criteria referred to for that are undefined and ultimately subjective and broad.
The bishops are concerned the proposed bill as reported from the committee also removes all references to fetal abnormalities, unlike the existing law which cites them as a reason for abortion up to 20 weeks, but not after.
‘It is clear the legal changes being proposed for pregnancies greater than 20 weeks will significantly widen the ability for a woman to have an abortion on the basis of disability,’ Ms Piper says. ‘That represents a significant change from the current law.’
The bishops fear the proposed changes will harm the well-being of many women, Ms Piper says. ‘The select committee itself acknowledges they heard from several submitters, particularly young women, who believed they might not have chosen abortion if they had received more support. But what is being proposed will not help women in this situation make different decisions.’
The select committee received 25,718 written submissions on the proposed law change, of which more than 90 per cent were opposed. Approximately 2800 submitters asked to make an oral submission with the committee hearing from 139.
The joint submission made by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and the bishops’ bioethics Nathaniel Centre is online at: https://tinyurl.com/suy9h9g
The Committee’s Report is at https://tinyurl.com/rm9lqw5