The Herald reports:
There were 18,380 abortions in New Zealand in 2007. The rate (20.1 abortions per 1000 women in the 15-44 age group) is high compared to other countries, putting us on a par with Australia, the United States and Sweden.
Unlike those countries, we have what has been described as “one of the most restrictive pieces of abortion legislation in the Western world” – contained in the Crimes Act and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act passed in 1977.
Yet despite our draconian law – abortion is a crime unless it is authorised by two certifying consultants – we have one of the highest abortion rates in the world. What gives?
On June 9 2008, High Court Justice Forrest Miller gave voice to what some had suspected for some time – there is “reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants” in New Zealand.
We effectively have abortion on demand, even though the law says an abortion should only be granted if there is physical or psychological harm by not having one.
Despite his “powerful misgivings about the lawfulness of many abortions”, Justice Miller notes that “Parliament appears untroubled by the state of the abortion law” and the previous calls for reform have gone unheeded.
Most MPs can think of nothing worse than an abortion law debate. Personally I think it may be necessary to change the law to reflect the practice.
Meanwhile in New Zealand, despite both factions being clearly unhappy with the state of our abortion law, and Justice Miller’s concerns that the law is being used more liberally than Parliament intended, our politicians speeches are much shorter.
“The Government has no current plans to reform the abortion laws,” says Justice Minister Simon Power in reply to the issues raised by Justice Miller.
There are some arguments for doing nothing – the law, despite being outdated, does actually allow women to get abortions, even if they do have to go through a cumbersome, some say demeaning, process that sees most of them granted an abortion because of the danger to their mental health.
On the other hand, the law is doing the opposite of what it set out to do – to provide restrictions on abortions. As Right to Life argued before Justice Miller, the effect of the law is that “New Zealand has abortion on request.”
The irony of the situation is that both factions in debate actually agree on one point – the law is an ass.
Nevertheless, I doubt we will see any change.