More than thirteen thousand abortions were performed in New Zealand last year, and the medical approach has changed markedly over time, but New Zealand's abortion law has not been updated for nearly forty years, having been written when hospitals were run by matrons wearing starched hats.
The Abortion Supervisory Committee is calling for abortion law to be updated, saying it is outdated, confusing, clumsy and contains derogatory language. The committee chairperson, Professor Dame Linda Holloway says "It's an indictment that we've got a statute like that on the books that's not been corrected."
The Abortion Supervisory Committee oversees abortion in New Zealand, registering practitioners and enforcing the current laws that govern abortion.
The met this week with the Justice and Electoral Committee to discuss their annual report. This year's report drew attention to the fact that the law they interpret and administer is forty years old, written in dated language and from a very different medical era.
The Abortion Supervisory Committee is increasingly having to fight legal battles against anti-abortion activists who can use the outdated legislative language as a hook on which to hang legal cases, which the ASC noted was time consuming and expensive. They asked the select committee to redraft and update the abortion law.
They did not ask for a liberalisation of abortion law - this is not something the Abortion Supervisory Committee could do; but they did point out that medical practice has changed so much that some of the current law is now irrelevant or impractical, and some demands create medically unnecessary barriers to service provision.
Strictly speaking, abortion is still a crime in New Zealand. The current law provides for limited exemptions to the ban on abortion including incest, foetal abnormality or serious threats to the health or the mental health of the mother. It is this last category that provides the reason for the vast majority of abortions performed in New Zealand.
The Family planning website has a run down on the legalities.
Also in this programme, we report on the first general debate of the year, and parliament gets a new MP - Raymond Huo, who has joined Labour as a list MP after Jacinda Ardern formally became the electoral MP for Mount Albert.