On Friday October 26, the ministerial briefing paper to the Minister of Justice on proposed changes to the abortion laws in New Zealand was released. The paper outlines three options on a policy shift to treat abortion as a health issue.
On the day the report was released, Bishop Patrick Dunn, President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference commented, ‘the paper is substantial and so we need time to read it and give it careful consideration. However, we must not lose sight of two key facts in this discussion. As we argued in our recent submission to the Law Commission, abortion is both a health and justice issue and our laws should continue to treat abortion as such. There are always at least two human lives involved – the unborn human person and the mother. The current abortion regime recognises this.
‘When you look closely at the current law we do not believe it criminalises women as some say – indeed in the section describing unlawful abortions, the law explicitly states that “a woman shall not be charged as a party to an offence against this section”. Taking abortion out of the Crimes Act will, however, effectively remove all legal protections for the unborn child.
‘In taking this stance, we also acknowledge the law must adequately protect the well-being of women and their families. The experience of Catholic agencies with a long history of working with women who have had abortions is that many experience negative consequences following an abortion, often because they made the decision under duress. Thus, we welcome the discussion in the document about the need for better informed consent by way of the provision of effective and independent counselling for all those contemplating an abortion. The changes in legislation we advocate are those that further recognise and protect the rights of the unborn child, while promoting the well-being of women.’
The Law Commission received just under 3500 submissions from the public. Eighteen per cent of the submissions supported an amendment to the Crimes Act.