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Abortion law reform with ALRANZ

THE WIRE 5/8/2019

Justice Minister Andrew Little announced yesterday the Labour Party’s proposed Abortion Bill which would decriminalise abortion in Aotearoa and introduce changes to make abortion more accesible.

The changes come in response to the Law Commission’s advice regarding reform and will have its first reading on Thursday.

Rahul Makam spoke to Terry Bellamak, President of The Abortion Law Reform

Association of New Zealand about how well this bill approaches what Aotearoa needs for abortion reform.

You can find the full interview here and the written transcript below. What follows is a write up from Angus Coker Grant.

 

An abortion reform has been proposed by Justice Minister Andrew Little, meaning the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act. Along with decriminilisation comes other changes to improve the ease of access to abortion. Little also seeks to create ‘safe-zones’ around abortion clinics in order to prevent anti-abortion protests in these areas.

Terry Bellamak, President of The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand is enthusiastic despite the minor differences from the ideal models suggested by the Law Commission. “Even though they’ve gone for Model C, this is still such a huge improvement on the system we have right now, that we really have to give them props for that.”

Bellamak’s enthusiasm continues when she outlines some of the changes under the Model currently in the Abortion Bill. “It’s great that you can refer yourself directly into a service...Overall, I think the best thing is that we’re even having this discussion - that we’ve even got this far.” 

The Law Commission’s report contained three possible models for the government to modify. Currently, the system most resembles Model B, Bellamak adds.

“Under Model B, there was a statutory test that needed to be satisfied and the doctor who was providing the abortion would be the person to make that decision and to give their approval.”

Bellamak closes with the same enthusiastic energy, but remains grounded with the reminder that this bill is yet to be passed and put into effect. “It’s really great that we’ve come this far. But we need to get it across the line, or it isn’t going to help anybody.”

 

By Angus Coker Grant

 

ORIGINAL TRANSCRIPT

Rahul Makam: What does this bill mean and was it what you expected?

Terry Bellamak:  It looks like abortion’s going to be decriminalised, which is great. That’s huge right there. We were hoping that the government would select Model A because it’s the option that treated abortion most like healthcare. They went for something like Model C, actually, Model C but with a 20-week limit instead of a 22-week limit. Which perhaps they had to do that for their coalition partners. Even though they’ve gone for Model C, this is still such a huge improvement on the system we have right now, that we really have to give them props for that. Self-referral is in there, which is great. That’s going to make a huge difference. People who’re trying to access abortion care. Because getting that referral was often a big hurdle to jump through - to jump over, rather. It’s great that you can refer yourself directly into a service. It looks like places that provide abortions will no longer need to have special licence, which is great. Overall, I think the best thing is that we’re even having this discussion - that we’ve even got this far. That is amazing. Today’s a great day.

Option A and Option C, what you’re referring to there is of course the Law Commission’s report, which suggested three different options regarding how abortion law could be reformed. Could explain those models? 

Model A was a situation where the pregnant person would consult with her doctor and decide on an abortion between the two of them. And that’s it. There was no statutory test that needed to be satisfied. Under Model B, there was a statutory test that needed to be satisfied and the doctor who was providing the abortion would be the person to make that decision and to give their approval. That was model most like what we’ve got now. Model C was like Model A up until 22-weeks and like Model B, after 22-weeks. 

Given that the government has gone with an option that looks, as you said, ‘much like Option C’, do you find an element of this bill disappointing?  

It’s a little disappointing. I would say it’s a little disappointing that they didn’t go with Model A in the first place. That said, there’s a lot of good stuff in this bill.

The government has also suggested that they would propose there to be a special committee. Do you think that there is a chance that the bill will change over the course of its readings  to a form where it is perhaps more agreeable and more aligned with Option A?  

I think that’s going to largely depend on the select committee and what they hear from New Zealanders. If they [New Zealanders] want Model A and are loud enough about it I think the select committee will probably listen. That’s going to depend too, on how much influence they have over their MPs.     

The vote will be a conscientious vote throughout the entirety of the bill’s readings. Do you think Labour has done enough to create enough cross-party support for this bill, such that the bill should pass?           

I think the bill should definitely pass. Under any and all circumstances. It’s so much better than what we have now, it would be legislative malpractice for it not pass. 

Is there anything else this bill misses out on?

I’m a little confused about the bill’s recommendations around conscientious objection, and I really hope someone asks the minister about it. Because I’m just not sure how different it is from what we have right now, and I’d like to find out more. 

Do you think the way conscientious objection currently works is something that should be reformed?

Yes, absolutely. Right now, the burden [on the patient] is way out of bounds. In favour of the doctor. I know what I would like to see, in terms of conscientious objection. I would like to see doctors and pharmacists to be required to refer their patients immediately to people who would help them. Either get contraception or an abortion referal or emergency contraception, y’know, whatever service they require. I would like to see a person who consults a physician and gets refused the service not to have to pay for that consultation. I would like to see a list of providers and what they refuse to do. Perhaps in the care of the medical council or the Health Ministry.

And is there anything else you’d like to add about the bill or your response to the bill? 

It’s great that we’ve come this far. It’s long past time that women and pregnant people need to be able to feel safe and in control of their own lives. It’s really great that we’ve come this far. But we need to get it across the line, or it isn’t going to help anybody.