Waikato MPs are split in the way they voted on the Abortion Legislation Bill, which passed its first reading on August 8.
Taupo MP Louise Upston and Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe were among the 23 who voted against the bill, while Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger, and Hamilton East MP David Bennett were among the 94 MPs who voted in favour.
The bill was treated as a conscience issue. It now goes before a select committee before going back to the House for a second reading.
The current law, dating back to 1977, places abortion under the Crimes Act. Justice Minister Andrew Little’s bill seeks to remove it from the criminal law framework and place it under health. “Abortion is the only medical procedure that is still a crime in New Zealand. This bill will modernise the laws. Safe abortion should be treated and regulated as a health issue.”
The bill advocates for a woman’s choice to self-refer for an abortion in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, as opposed to the current regime which requires an abortion to be approved by two certifying consultants before proceeding. After 20 weeks, women would have to meet a statutory test by a health practitioner before going ahead.
Taupo MP Louise Upston said the legislation needs updating and abortion should be removed from the Crimes Act. “But to have absolutely no requirements, no tests, nothing up to the age of 20 weeks I think is problematic. And part of that is because the Ministry of Health says that a fully-formed baby is at 12 weeks of pregnancy.”
Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger voted in favour of the bill but expressed concerns about details around the stages of pregnancy referenced.
“We need to have an open conversation about that in select committee,” she said. “Women have historically sought abortions and found themselves with serious health issues. We have a process in this country for abortions, and it’s time to take it out of the Crimes Act. Women who find themselves in tough situations are not criminals. Abortion is a last resort; contraception is my preference.”
Hamilton MPs were also divided in their response to the bill. Hamilton East MP David Bennett supported the bill, saying, “it is my instinct that abortion does not belong in the Crimes Act”, while Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe voted no. He said he was broadly supportive of the legislative framework in place for over 40 years but recognised the need to update and improve some aspects of the existing Act.
“I am deeply concerned about some of the proposed changes. In particular, I’m alarmed at the lack of safeguards in the bill to prevent late-term abortions, and the removal of some of the checks and balances that minimise the risk of a woman being coerced into an abortion, or making a decision without adequate counselling.”
The fact no woman has been convicted of a crime for having an abortion meant it was misleading to argue for the bill on the basis of ‘decriminalising’ abortion in New Zealand, he said, adding that given the deeply held views on both sides, he would be open to a referendum on the bill.