WelCom June 2018:
The Law Commission is reviewing New Zealand’s abortion law at the request of the Justice Minister, the Hon Andrew Little. In February 2018, the Minister advised that the Government is considering how to ensure New Zealand’s abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.
The Law Commission has asked for views on Aotearoa New Zealand’s abortion laws, as it develops advice to government. The closing date for submissions was 18 May 2018.
A joint submission by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) to the Law Commission, on Friday 18 May, argues the State has an essential responsibility to protect and care for all human life, born and unborn, which it would abdicate by making abortion solely a matter between a woman and her doctor.
Justice Minister Hon Andrew Little had, in previous comments, indicated a full review of the abortion laws would take place. However, the brief given to the Law Commission falls far short of this. The Minister has, instead, indicated the Government wants abortion to be treated as ‘a health issue’, rather than a criminal one. As a result, the Law Commission has been tasked with providing an alternative legal framework to facilitate what would effectively amount to a significant policy change.
The NZCBC and its centre of bioethics, The Nathaniel Centre, are concerned such a move would limit or remove the rights of the unborn child that the current law acknowledges. They say abortion is both a health and a justice issue and it should continue to be treated by the law as such.
NZCBC President Bishop Patrick Dunn said, ‘the changes we would advocate for are those which will ensure continued consideration of the rights of the unborn child and promote the well-being of women, including better processes to ensure adequate informed consent, especially independent counselling.’
The submission also calls for a parallel review of the social support structures, familial, financial, emotional and social, that our society offers to women who are pregnant. ‘A decision for an abortion can only be described as a truly ‘free’ choice if the woman knows there is tangible support that enables her to choose to keep the child,’ said Bishop Dunn.
Amanda Gregan is Communications Adviser, NZ Catholic Bishops – Te Huinga o ngā Pīhopa Katorika o Aotearoa.