New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Law Commission abortion law reform briefing received by minister

30 October 2018

Justice Minister Andrew Little has received the Law Commission’s briefing on alternative approaches to abortion law.

“Our abortion law is over 40 years old, and starts with the proposition that an abortion is a crime. In February, I asked the Law Commission for advice on treating abortion as a health matter could look like,” says Andrew Little.

“I would like to thank the Law Commission for its extensive work on the briefing paper. I asked the Commission to gather the public’s views, and they received comprehensive submissions.”

In his request to the Law Commission, Mr Little said he expected its advice to include reviewing the criminal aspects of abortion law, the statutory grounds for abortion and the process for receiving services.

Public submissions were sought between 4 April and 18 May 2018 and the Commission received 3,419 submissions.

The Commission’s advice was provided to the minister on 26 October.

Alternative models

The briefing paper describes three alternative legal models to New Zealand’s abortion laws if the Government decides to treat abortion as a health issue.  

Under Model A there would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed. The decision whether to have an abortion would be made by the woman concerned in consultation with her health practitioner.

Under Model B there would be a statutory test. The health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The briefing paper also sets out several other changes that could be made to align the law with a health approach to abortion. They include:

  • Repealing the current grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act.
  • Removing the requirement for abortions to be authorised by two specially appointed doctors called ‘certifying consultants’.
  • Repealing the criminal offences in the Crimes Act relating to abortion. Instead, other offences in the Crimes Act and health legislation that currently exist would protect women from unsafe abortions.
  • Allowing women to access abortion services directly, rather than having to get a referral from a doctor as they do under the current law.
  • Removing the current restrictions around who may perform an abortion and where abortions must be performed. Instead, the provision of abortion services would be regulated by appropriate health bodies, the same as any other health care procedure.

“I acknowledge that the subject of abortion is a personal one for each MP. I will be taking time to talk to my colleagues across all parties about the Law Commission’s briefing before progressing further,” Andrew Little says.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019