New Zealand passes Bill to decriminalise abortion

WELLINGTON • New Zealand has passed a landmark Bill that treats abortion as a health issue rather than a crime, a major reform in laws that have been unchanged for more than four decades.

Parliament passed the reform late on Wednesday by a vote of 68 to 51. The legislation modernises abortion laws in place since 1977 and proposes that a woman should have access to abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy, with advice from her doctor.

After 20 weeks, a pregnant woman would require a test and two doctors to agree that abortion is the right decision. These conditions for post-20-week pregnancy were tougher than the government's original proposal.

Under the old law, abortion was an offence in New Zealand and a woman could legally get an abortion only if two doctors certified that continuing the pregnancy would result in danger to her mental or physical health.

"For over 40 years, abortion has been the only medical procedure considered a crime in New Zealand. But from now, abortions will be rightly treated as a health issue," Minister of Justice Andrew Little said after the law was passed.

The move is a win for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's centre-left coalition party ahead of a general election in September. She pledged to decriminalise abortion when she was elected in 2017, but plans to change the laws were delayed as lawmakers argued over it.

New Zealand is the latest country to liberalise abortion laws. South Korea's high court overturned a ban on abortion in April, while Ireland legalised abortion in a referendum. In the United States, however, some conservative-leaning states have taken action to curb abortion rights.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2020, with the headline 'New Zealand passes Bill to decriminalise abortion'. Print Edition | Subscribe