Abortion Legislation Act 2020

The Abortion Legislation Act 2020 is an Act of Parliament in New Zealand that amends the law to decriminalise abortion. Under the act, abortion is available without restrictions to any woman who is not more than 20 weeks pregnant. Women seeking an abortion after 20 weeks have to be assessed by a qualified health professional.[5]

Abortion Legislation Act 2020
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand Parliament
Royal assent23 March 2020[2]
Commenced24 March 2020
Legislative history
Introduced byAndrew Little
First reading8 August 2019[1]
Second reading3 March 2020[3]
Third reading18 March 2020[4]
Related legislation
Status: Current legislation

Legislative featuresEdit

The Abortion Legislation Act decriminalises abortion, better aligns the regulation of abortion services with other health services, and modernises the legal framework of abortion provided by the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 (CSA Act 1977). The Abortion Legislation Act repeals Sections 10 to 46 of the CSA Act 1977 including the Abortion Supervisory Committee (Section 10), the requirement that abortions need to be certified by two certifying consultants (Section 29), and the ban on women unlawfully procuring a miscarriage (Section 44). Under the Abortion Legislation Act, women can seek an abortion without restrictions within the first 20 weeks of their pregnancy. After the 20 week period, women seeking an abortion must consult a qualified health practitioner who will assess the patient's physical health, mental health, and well-being.[5]

The Act also requires medical practitioners who have a conscientious objection to performing abortions to inform their patients at the earliest opportunity and to provide them with information on how to access the closest abortion services. The Act also contains provisions for protecting the rights of conscientious objecting medical professionals from discrimination and termination.[5]

The Abortion Legislation Act also amends section 182 of the Crimes Act (killing an unborn child) to exempt abortion services within the provisions of the CSA Act. The Act also repeals Sections 183 to 187A of the Crimes Act including the 14 year prison term for any persons with the exception of the woman or girl seeking to unlawfully procure abortion (section 183); a seven year prison term for persons who unlawfully provide the means of procuring an abortion (section 186), and seeking an abortion illegally before or after the 20 week gestation period (section 187). The Abortion Legislation Act replaces these sections with section 183 (clause 12) which makes it an offense for a person who is not a health practitioner to procure or perform an abortion for a woman.[5]

The Abortion Legislation Act also extends the definition of health services in the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994 (HDC Act) to include abortion services.[5]


Andrew Little, the sponsor of the Abortion Legislation Act.


On 5 August 2019, the Minister of Justice Andrew Little announced that the Labour-led coalition government would be introducing new legislation to decriminalise abortion and to allow women unrestricted access to abortion within the 20 week gestation period. The New Zealand Law Commission had proposed three options for abortion reform: having no statutory test to make sure the abortion was appropriate at any point; taking abortion off the Crimes Act but having a statutory test; or only having a test for later-term abortions, after 22 weeks. The Government adopted the third approach but reduced it to 20 weeks.[6][7][8][9] While pro-choice groups like the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) and Family Planning have welcomed the proposed changes but criticized the 20 week limit, the Government's proposed abortion law reform was opposed by the conservative lobby group Family First New Zealand.[7][10]

According to media reports, the ruling Labour Party and its coalition partner New Zealand First conducted months of negotiations on the proposed Abortion Legislation Bill. New Zealand First Member of Parliament and Minister of Children Tracey Martin, a supporter of abortion reform, played an active role in the negotiations. On 6 August 2019, NZ First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters surprised both Martin and Labour by demanding a binding referendum on the Abortion Legislation Bill. The NZ First parliamentary caucus voted by a majority to support their leader's calls for a referendum. In response, Justice Minister Andrew Little ruled out support for a binding referendum on abortion, claiming that it had not been discussed during the negotiations. NZ First subsequently confirmed that it would support the Abortion Legislation Bill through its first and second readings while pushing for a referendum.[11][12][13][14]

The opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges voiced his support for abortion reform but stated that more safeguards were needed. Voting for the Abortion Legislation Bill was conducted by a conscience vote, allowing MPs to vote individually on the bill.[15] Opposition National MP Amy Adams criticized NZ First's call for a referendum, saying that the matter should be decided by Parliament.[12]

First readingEdit

On 8 August 2019, the New Zealand Parliament held its first vote on the Abortion Legislation Act, which passed by 94 votes against 23. The Act was then referred to the select committee stage.[16] Three National Party MPs were absent from the vote: Alfred Ngaro was overseas but had sent a proxy vote that was not cast; Hamish Walker had voted for the Bill but his vote was discounted under Parliament's rules because he had left the Debating Chamber before the votes were counted; and Jian Yang who had missed the vote.[17]

Voting at first reading (8 Aug 2019)[17]
Party Voted for Voted against Absent
National (55)
Labour (46)
NZ First (9)
Green (8)
ACT (1)
Independent (1)
Totals 94 23 3

Select committee stageEdit

Ruth Dyson, Chairperson of the Abortion Legislation Committee

Submissions for the Abortion Legislation Act were held until 19 September 2019. Labour MP Ruth Dyson was designated Chairperson of the Abortion Legislation Committee.[18] Other Committee members have included Green MP Jan Logie, Labour MPs Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki, and National MPs Nikki Kaye and Agnes Loheni.[19] By 9 October 2019, the Abortion Legislation Committee had received 25,000 written submissions from a range of legal and medical experts, religious groups, national organisations and ordinary people sharing personal experiences including Dr Alison Knowles, the Mental Health Foundation, and Family First. Due to the large volume, the Committee confirmed that it would be hearing 150 oral submissions out of the 2,890 who had opted to speak. Family First national director Bob McCoskrie criticised the select committee for excluding certain voices and rushing the process. In response, Dyson reiterated the committee's commitment to hearing a range of perspectives while remarking that "hearing the same thing over and over again doesn't add value to the committee at all." Submissions were held in Auckland on 8 October and scheduled for Christchurch on 11 October and Wellington on 15 October.[19][20]

In 14 February 2020, the Select Committee delivered its report which called for safeguards to address sex selection, late-term abortions and to remove some barriers for women seeking abortions. Another recommendation was requiring a health professional approving abortion after 20 weeks to consult at least one other health professional before authorising an abortion. The definition for consultation was also widened to include Registered Nurses as well and qualified medical practitioners.[21][22][23] In addition, Loheni published a minority report criticising the bill for what she regarded as a lack of safeguards on foetal abnormalities and late-term abortions. ACT New Zealand leader David Seymour supported the Select Committee's recommendations but argued that safe zones infringed on freedom of expression.[21]

The New Zealand Medical Association welcomed the changes while Catholic bishops have claimed that the legislation infringes upon the legal rights of unborn children and threatens unborn babies with a fetal disability.[24][25] Select Committee member Agnes Loheni, who was opposed to the legislation, proposed a supplementary order paper which would return the post 20 week criteria for abortion to where it currently stands under the Crimes Act.[26]

Second readingEdit

On 3 March 2020, the Abortion Legislation Act passed its second reading, albeit by a narrower margin of 81 votes in favor and 39 votes opposed.[27][28][29] 35 organisations including Family Planning, the National Council of Women of New Zealand, the New Zealand College of Midwives, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and Amnesty International Aotearoa NZ signed an open letter supporting the legislation.[30][28] The anti-abortion group March for Life NZ used graphic images of aborted fetuses to express their opposition.[28][31] 1300 people in families with Down syndrome subsequently signed an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on the Government to not introduce abortion up-to-birth for Down syndrome.[32]

Voting at second reading (3 March 2020)[29]
Party Voted for Voted against
National (55)
Labour (46)
NZ First (9)
Green (8)
ACT (1)
Independent (1)
Totals 81 39

Committee of the Whole House stageEdit

ACT Leader David Seymour, successfully moved a motion eliminating "safe zones" from the Act.

The Committee of the Whole House stage began on 10 March 2020. On the first day of debate on Part 1, parliamentarians narrowly rejected, by 56–59, the first part of David Seymour's amendment to scrap "safe zones" from the Act. However, the second part of Seymour's amendment, which effectively scrapped the proposed "safe zones", was passed during a voting mix-up. Parliament also adopted an amendment by Ruth Dyson dealing with conscientious objectors. In addition, Parliament considered but rejected several amendments including:

  • Green Co-Leader Marama Davidson's amendment reducing penalties around safe zones and removing political involvement in their setting up (21–96);
  • An amendment to remove all statutory tests for abortions up to birth (12–106);
  • A supplementary order paper by National MP Parmjeet Parmar aiming to prevent gender-selective abortions failed; and
  • An amendment by National MP Simon O'Connor requiring medical intervention of unintended live births after attempted termination (37–80).[33][34][35]

On 18 March, parliamentarians voted against holding a referendum on the abortion law changes by margin of 100 to 19. New Zealand First had proposed a referendum on the changes in return for supporting the passage of the legislation through Parliament.[36][37][38]

Third readingEdit

On the evening of 18 March, the Abortion Legislation Act passed its third reading by a margin of 68 to 51. Green MP Marama Davidson attempted to reverse David Seymour's amendment eliminating safe zones around abortion clinics but MPs voted by a margin 77 to 43 against it. During the final reading, the bill's initiator Justice Minister Little argued that it would make significant changes to the country's abortion framework by eliminating abortion from the Crimes Act. Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Justice Minister, Jan Logie, hailed the bill's passage as a victory for women having the freedom to make decisions about having a child. Abortion Legislation Committee's chair Ruth Dyson and National MP Amy Adams welcomed the bill's passage as long overdue for women's rights but expressed disappointment at the elimination of the safe zones around abortion clinics.[39][40][41][4]

During the final reading, Labour List MP Kieran McAnulty spoke about his Catholic faith and being adopted as a child but supported women's reproductive rights. ACT Leader David Seymour expressed support for women's reproductive rights and eliminating abortion from the Crimes Act but defended his amendment to eliminate safe zones. Labour MP Marja Lubeck said that abortion was not a decision that women made lightly, describing the previous legislation as "archaic."[40][4]

Several MPs opposed to the Abortion Legislation Act also made speeches during the final reading. National MP Agnes Loheni, a member of the Abortion Legislation Committee, described the bill as an "attack on our humanity." She highlighted the fact that 91.6% of the 25,000 submissions had opposed the bill.[40][39][41][4] Labour MP Greg O'Connor expressed concerns that the Bill's Section 11 did not do enough to protect disabled infants while talking about his experiences as the father of a disabled child. National MP Simon O'Connor claimed that the bill did not afford rights and dignity to unborn children. Fellow National MP Andrew Bayly expressed concerns that the bill would allow minors to seek abortions without the knowledge of their parents and guardians. National MP Chris Penk disputed assertions that the previous abortion legislation criminalised women and claimed that the new bill would deny unborn children the right of protection under the law.[40]

Voting at third reading (18 March 2020)[42]
Party Voted for Voted against Absent
National (55)
Labour (46)
NZ First (9)
Green (8)
ACT (1)
Independent (1)
Totals 68 51 1

Royal assent and entry into forceEdit

The Act was given the Royal assent on 23 March,[2] and came into force on 24 March.

Proposed amendmentsEdit

Following the voting mix-up which saw the safe area provisions scrapped, Labour MP Louisa Wall entered the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill, proposing their restoration, into the member's bill ballot. The bill was drawn from the ballot on 23 July 2020 and introduced. When Parliament dissolved prior to the 17 October 2020 general election, the bill was still awaiting its first reading.[43]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b "Abortion Legislation Bill 2019 164-1". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Abortion Legislation Bill - New Zealand Parliament". www.parliament.nz. New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  3. ^ Molyneux, Vita (3 March 2020). "Abortion Legislation Bill passes second reading". Newshub. Archived from the original on 24 March 2020. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Coughlan, Thomas (18 March 2020). "Abortion legalised in New Zealand with Parliament passing new law in 68-51 vote". Stuff. Archived from the original on 19 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Abortion Legislation Bill 2019 164-1: Bill Digest". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  6. ^ Little, Andrew (5 August 2019). "Bill to modernise abortion law introduced". Beehive.govt.nz. New Zealand Government. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Govt unveils sweeping abortion law changes". Otago Daily Times. 5 August 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  8. ^ Whyte, Anna (5 August 2019). "New Government bill seeks to remove abortion from Crimes Act, treat it as a health issue". 1 News. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  9. ^ Jancic, Boris (5 August 2019). "Government unveils abortion law reforms". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Radical abortion law reform is deeply anti-human rights – Family First". Voxy.com. Fuseworks Media. 5 August 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  11. ^ Patterson, Jane (8 August 2019). "Abortion legislation: 'It wasn't part of our coalition agreement so why is it there' – Winston Peters". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  12. ^ a b Jancic, Boris (6 August 2019). "NZ First blindsides Andrew Little with talk of abortion referendum". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  13. ^ Walls, Jason (8 August 2019). "All nine NZ First MPs to vote in favour of abortion bill in first and second reading". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  14. ^ Cooke, Henry (6 August 2019). "Winston Peters suggests NZ First want binding referendum on abortion". Stuff. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  15. ^ Jancic, Boris (8 August 2019). "National leader Simon Bridges to back abortion law changes at first reading". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  16. ^ Coughlan, Thomas; Cooke, Henry (8 August 2019). "Abortion law passes first hurdle 94 votes to 23". Stuff. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  17. ^ a b Walls, Jason (8 August 2019). "How Members of Parliament voted in the first reading of the Abortion Legislation Bill". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  18. ^ "Abortion Legislation Bill: Make a submission". New Zealand Parliament. 18 September 2019. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  19. ^ a b Rosenberg, Matthew (8 October 2019). "Abortion bill: Emotions run high at select committee hearing in Auckland". Stuff. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  20. ^ "Abortion law critics angered by handling of submissions". The New Zealand Herald. 9 October 2019. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  21. ^ a b "Final report: Abortion Legislation Bill". New Zealand Parliament. 14 February 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  22. ^ Dreaver, Charlie (14 February 2020). "Select committee delivers report on abortion Bill". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  23. ^ Cheng, Derek (14 February 2020). "Abortion law reform: Extra doctor consultation recommended for later than 20-week abortions". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  24. ^ Shahtahmasebi, Zahra (18 February 2020). "NZMA satisfied with changes to abortion bill as it heads back to Parliament". New Zealand Doctor. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  25. ^ "Catholic Bishops Warn Proposed Abortion Law Removes Tenuous Unborn Rights". Scoop. NZ Catholic Bishops. 19 February 2020. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  26. ^ "Amendments To Abortion Legislation Bill Tabled For Abortions Post-20 Weeks". Scoop. New Zealand National Party. 19 February 2020. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  27. ^ Moir, Jo (3 March 2020). "Abortion Legislation Bill passes second reading". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  28. ^ a b c Whyte, Anna (3 March 2020). "Abortion law reform passes second reading". 1 News. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  29. ^ a b Cheng, Derek (3 March 2020). "Abortion law reform passes next parliamentary hurdle comfortably". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  30. ^ Te, Mandy (3 March 2020). "Organisations sign letter supporting abortion law reform as second reading to begin". Stuff. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  31. ^ Cheng, Derek (3 March 2020). "Jacinda Ardern opposed to 'graphic' abortion law rally at Parliament". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  32. ^ Media, Scoop (10 March 2020). "Families of Downs children". Scoop Media. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  33. ^ "Abortion Legislation Bill — In Committee". New Zealand Parliament. 10 March 2020. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  34. ^ Wade, Amelia (11 March 2020). "Voting mix-up sees abortion safe-zones axed and MPs 'gutted'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  35. ^ McCullough, Yvette (11 March 2020). "MPs vote to remove abortion clinic safe zones from Bill". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  36. ^ "Abortion referendum scrapped – public won't decide on law change". The New Zealand Herald. 18 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  37. ^ Coughlan, Thomas (18 March 2020). "Attempt to put abortion law changes to a referendum fails crucial Parliamentary vote". Stuff. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  38. ^ Small, Zane (18 March 2020). "Lawmakers vote against putting abortion law changes to referendum". Newshub. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  39. ^ a b "Abortion Legislation Bill passes third and final reading in Parliament". Radio New Zealand. 18 March 2020. Archived from the original on 30 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  40. ^ a b c d Wade, Amelia (18 March 2020). "Abortion law reform passes third reading". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 10 April 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  41. ^ a b Small, Zane (18 March 2020). "Abortion no longer a crime in New Zealand as law change passes final reading in Parliament". Newshub. Archived from the original on 19 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  42. ^ "Abortion Legislation Bill — Third Reading". New Zealand Parliament. 18 March 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  43. ^ "Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill - New Zealand Parliament". www.parliament.nz. Retrieved 27 October 2020.

External linksEdit