The abortion debate

An article in the NZ Herald on the abortion debate.

I find the focus on whether laws around abortion are in the Crimes Act or not not are a red herring and will actually make no difference to women who need an abortion. It’s silly virtue signalling.

You are always going to have some regulation and hence offences around abortion, and it really matters little which Act they are in. What matters is the actual substance of the law.

In my view there are three key aspects of abortion law:

  1. Eligibility or criteria
  2. Time
  3. Process

Taking each in turn:


We have a mismatch between the written law and the current practice. The written law says you can only have an abortion if the pregnancy poses serious danger to life, physical health, or mental health.

But for several decades we have effectively had abortion on demand (well for 98% of those seeking an abortion). The mental health criteria has been interpreted in a very liberal way, so that (off memory) 98% of those seeking an abortion are approved for one. It is not clear if the 2% who are initially declined reapply and get approved, or if they carry their baby to term.

Anyway we effectively have abortion on demand. We should change the law to reflect the reality. I don’t want to have a law where women are forced to carry a baby they don’t want to, or have to pretend they will suffer mental health damage by having a baby.

Up until the time threshold, the only criteria should be the decision of the pregnant woman that she doesn’t wish to continue with the pregnancy. There should be no need to have to declare you will be psychologically damaged if you continue.


My views on abortion are subject to time. I (and most people) would not support aborting a 38 week old foetus.

The challenge with abortion is you have two sets of rights. The rights of the pregnant mother and the rights of the unborn child. They are both legitimate rights and neither are absolute.

At the beginning of the pregnancy the rights of the mother come first (in my opinion). But as the pregnancy goes on, the rights of the unborn child come first.

Working out when the order of rights swaps over is not easy. I tend to think it is around the time the foetus or baby could be born if delivered.

The current law says you can have an abortion on wide grounds up to 20 weeks. I’m not sure that is the ideal time threshold but it seems reasonable. It gives most women enough time to realise they are pregnant, make a decision, and go through the process.

Medical research has shown that the chances of survival are basically 0% under 22 weeks. At 22 weeks they rise up to 10%, at 23 weeks are up to 35% and at 24 weeks up to 70%.

So around the 20 to 22 weeks mark seems reasonable. Incidentally 94% of abortions are done in the first 13 weeks.

After that mark, an abortion should only be permitted in extreme circumstances such as severe health risk to the pregnant woman.


The law currently requires two certifying consultants to approve an abortion. If you change the eligibility, then you shouldn’t need a process like that.

It will be interesting to see what the Law Commission recommends, but I would have thought something simple such as a medical practitioner certifies the pregnancy is under 20 weeks, and the woman signs the application form. Then you have the procedure done.

It is worth noting that the number of abortions has been falling for the last 13 years. This is a good thing, and I don’t think changing the law will increase the number of abortions. It will just make it easier for women who decide they want one. It’s a tough enough decision to make, without having to go through an un-necessary convoluted process.

Ideally if a woman doesn’t want to be a mother, she won’t get pregnant. Contraception is far preferable to abortion, and the drop in abortions for the last 13 years reflects this I believe.

I respect that some people disagree with me.  They think that life begins at conception and that the rights of a one week old embryo trump the rights of the pregnant woman. I disagree with that view as do the majority of people in New Zealand (and Ireland).

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