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Australian pro-life and pro-choice advocates rally ahead of a debate on the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill, 2019. Photo/Getty

Pro-choice protestors to rally around NZ for abortion law reform

Pro-choice protestors are set to rally around New Zealand today in support of abortion law reform.

“Now is the time for people who care about women and pregnant people to come out to the National Day of Action and show the politicians we need change," said Terry Bellamak, National President of the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ).

The Abortion Legislation Bill, which passed its first reading last year at 94 votes to 23, is under a conscience vote, meaning MPs will vote in the next reading on what they individually believe, rather than along party lines. 

The Bill removes abortion from the Crimes Act, decriminalising it, and treats abortion services like health services. Currently, people who want an abortion need approval from two doctors to say that having a child would damage their physical or mental health. One in four New Zealand women have had an abortion. 

At the first reading, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and opposition leader Simon Bridges both supported the Bill.

"Women feel like they have to lie to legally access an abortion in New Zealand and if they do tell the truth then under New Zealand law they are a criminal. And I don't believe that is right. I fundamentally disagree with that," said Ardern.

There were more than 25,000 submissions on the Bill with 90 percent opposed to it, despite widespread support for legal abortion. A survey published last year in the New Zealand Medical Journal  found that of the more than 19,000 people surveyed, 89 percent support legalised abortion when a woman’s life is endangered and 65 percent support legalised abortion regardless of the reason.

The Select Committee's report on the bill, released this month, recommended passing it with some amendments. In an analysis of the report, Bellamak said the Bill was far from perfect.

"If the new Bill passes as it stands, New Zealand will still have comparatively strict abortion laws.

"Even in the age of the #metoo, both current law and the new bill specifically allow health practitioners to refuse emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors on the ground of ‘conscience.’ It is time to demand change to reproductive health laws.”

The Bill protects conscientious objectors who do not want to provide abortion services or emergency contraceptives, even in cases of rape. The doctor would have to tell the patient about their objection and how to access services with another provider, but this could delay services where time is of the essence.

There would also be more restrictions around abortions after 20 weeks gestation - a doctor could only carry one out after consulting another health provider. Less than one percent of abortions happen after 20 weeks and are usually because of medical reasons.

Dame Margaret Sparrow has added her support to the rally campaign: "I believe in abortion law reform because our present laws have been there for 43 years. Hopelessly out of date, they need bringing into the 21st century."

The bill still has two more readings to complete before coming law.

New Zealand has seen a decline in the number of abortions being performed since the mid-2000s. In 2007, 20.1 percent of all pregnancies in New Zealand ended in an abortion but by 2017, that had fallen to 13.7 percent.

The rallies are being held today in Wellington at 12.30pm at Midland Park, in Auckland at 5.30pm starting at Albert Park and heading to Aotea Square, in Christchurch at 12.30pm at the Kate Sheppard National Memorial, and in Dunedin at 12pm at Queens Gardens.

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