The Green Party announced on Friday that we will decriminalise abortion. This has prompted a huge amount of debate.
Abortion is always a tough subject. It’s an issue where people have very genuine and deeply held views, which I respect. This is the reason why political parties have always been so reluctant to discuss it, let alone make policy that addresses it.
But after a long and rigorous policy process, including consultation with membership, the Green Party has decided to take an honest approach to abortion and to treat it as the health and access issue that it is. We have become the first New Zealand political party to have policy around decriminalising abortion. This was always going to cause waves. But as someone involved in the writing of this policy, I am proud to be part of a party that was brave enough to look at updating legislation created in the 1970s and rewrite it, in an honest and transparent way, to make it fit for the 21st century.
At the heart of our policy is an assertion of the right of women to make decisions regarding their own health.
The Green Party trusts women to get these decisions right.
Our policy will make the law honest, remove some of the judgement and discrimination that exists under the current law, and provide a better, safer and fairer environment for women and the medical profession.
There has been a lot of misinformation about our policy since we launched it on Friday, so let’s look at what our policy does and does not do:
1. It decriminalises abortion. At the moment, abortion is a crime under the Crimes Act unless it fits into some very narrow criteria. Most women needing an abortion, and doctors signing those abortions off, are forced into a situation where they have to be less than honest to get around the law. You can see this in the stats that show 98 per cent of all abortions are allowed for “mental health” reasons. By decriminalising abortions up to 20 weeks, we are reflecting current practice, but making that practice honest under the law. This will remove some of the delays and stigma that add unnecessary trauma to what can already be a really difficult time in a woman’s life. By making the law honest, we also help ensure equal access to services, no matter where a woman may live.
2. It asserts the right for women to choose. The Green Party trusts women to make the right decisions for them and their family/whanau. Decriminalising abortion asserts that right. But we also want to put in place measures ensuring that women are enabled to choose not to have an abortion. For example, our policy states we will: Address concerns about pressure for and overuse of antenatal screening, which should be an individual choice, and ensure that parents are fully informed about available and potential supports for families and people living with disabilities.
3. It maintains the practice where abortions are not legal, in most cases, post 20 weeks. Our policy is in line with current law and practice where abortions after 20 weeks are only granted when a woman’s life or wellbeing is in serious danger, or when the foetus has been diagnosed with an unsurvivablecondition which is incompatible with life.Late term abortions are incredibly rare and our policy won’t change that. In 2013, for example, of the 14,745 abortions undertaken, just 66 were for post 20 week pregnancies. Our policy does not encourage late term abortions of babies with Spina Bifida or Down’s Syndrome. In fact, our policy removes some of the status quo discrimination against people with disabilities, as I pointed out above.
4. We maintain the right of a doctor to not sign off on an abortion. If a medical professional’s ethics prevent them from signing off on a termination, their rights are protected but they do have a duty to refer a woman on to another doctor in a timely manner that will not prevent the woman from accessing a termination.
5. We are not creating abortion on demand up to 20 weeks. This is an accusation that’s getting some traction on the internet. Our policy clearly advocates for easier access to earlier terminations, especially medical terminations, which will be accessible to women whose pregnancies are 9 weeks or less, ensuring minimal risk of rare complications later in pregnancy. The vast majority of women seek an abortion before 12 weeks. Having equal access to early medical abortions will give women the ability to have an earlier termination. No one wants to have an abortion. Better access to earlier terminations will result in less complicated, less traumatic procedures, and will not result in abortions on demand.
6. We are improving counselling and support for pregnant women. Our policy supports neutral counselling services. This means unbiased counselling and support around continuing with a pregnancy, considering adoption, or accessing a termination. We expect pregnancy services to ethically and empathetically provide unbiased information on all options, and offer support and practical assistance to women no matter what they choose. This includes cases where testing shows possible foetal abnormalities. We will ensure that families who wish to continue a pregnancy in these circumstances will not feel pressured into a termination.
The Green Party has led the political fight for the health and welfare of New Zealand women. We are the only party in Parliament where women MP’s outnumber men. We firmly believe the time has come for New Zealand to take an honest approach to abortion law reform and that we are the party to lead this.
Abortion is a difficult reality that has been around since humans started recording our history. It occurs at a time in a woman’s life that is almost always difficult, and it is never pleasant.
We, alongside almost every New Zealander want to see our abortion rates continue to drop. Alongside our policy on abortion is our policy on contraception (which is never foolproof). It outlines how important understanding of contraception is to further lowering abortion rates.
What we recognise is that women deserve equal access to legal medical care, and we firmly trust in women to make the right decision for them and their family. The law as it stands implies that women cannot be trusted. It forces women and doctors to be dishonest, which adds to the stigma they both feel as a result.
It is time to decriminalise abortion in New Zealand.