New Zealand Law Society - Parliament passes Abortion Legislation Bill

Parliament passes Abortion Legislation Bill

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The Abortion Legislation Bill has received a third reading in Parliament. The bill passed its third reading by 68 votes to 51.

It will come into force on the day after the date of Royal assent.

The bill was introduced by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 5 August 2019. It amends the law to decriminalise abortion, better align the regulation of abortion services with other health services, and modernise the legal framework for abortion currently set out in the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977.

The Abortion Legislation Committee considered 25,776 submissions and heard oral evidence from 139 submitters in its consideration of the bill.

Until passage of the legislation and its coming into force, an abortion has been unlawful unless certain legal grounds are met, and performing an unlawful abortion is a criminal offence. Two specially appointed doctors, called certifying consultants, have had to be satisfied that one of the grounds applies before an abortion can occur. It has also been an offence, punishable by fine, for a woman to unlawfully procure her own miscarriage or obtain an unlawful abortion.

The new legislation replaces sections 10 to 46 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act, to establish processes for regulating the provision of abortion services.

Section 182 of the Crimes Act (Killing unborn child) is amended and sections 182A to 187A of the Crimes Act are replaced with a new section 183 (Abortion procured by person other than health practitioner).

Amendments to section 174 of the the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 and section 2 of the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994 (definition of health services) are also made.

On its passage through Parliament proposed amendments to sections 15, 16 and 17 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act were removed. These related to prohibition of certain behaviour in safe areas. The definition of "safe area" remains in section 2:  "safe area means any premises at which abortion services are provided, and any area around those premises, prescribed in regulations made under section 17(1) [not passed] as a safe area."

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