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NZ First understood to be holding up abortion law reform

Author
NZ Herald,
Section
Politics,
Publish Date
Thursday, 14 March 2019, 12:43PM
Justice Minister Andrew Little (right) was planning to introduce legislation on abortion by early this year, but it is being delayed by concerns from NZ First. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Andrew Little (right) was planning to introduce legislation on abortion by early this year, but it is being delayed by concerns from NZ First. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Government plans to pass reforms to abortion law but is being held up by New Zealand First, the Herald understands.

Justice Minister Andrew Little previously said he expected to get Cabinet sign-off by the end of last year and to present legislation early this year.

However that was stymied by NZ First, which is reluctant for the issue to be treated as a Government measure.

Legislation for abortion reform, which is to be treated as a conscience issue, would have to be signed off by Cabinet. That raises questions about how Cabinet collective responsibility would apply for NZ First Cabinet Ministers, who may want to vote against it.

It is also understood Little has approached National to sound them on support for reform.

Little declined to say why his preferred timeline had been pushed back, except to say that it involved a lot of factors.

"It might not be at a pace I would have preferred ... I don't think anybody is particularly to blame. There's a lot on.

"To the extent I've been asked to attribute a cause, no I don't think NZ First is the cause of any delay. There's a range of factors."

He said NZ First was being helpful, constructive and wanted to progress the issue.

"I'm totally satisfied with the progress we're making."

Abortion reform legislation should be introduced to the House "in the not-too-distant future".

Little asked the Law Commission to look at abortion in February last year, and received the commission's report last October.

The report recommended three options:

• A - There would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed, and the decision would be made by the woman in consultation with a doctor.

• B - The doctor would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate after considering the woman's physical and mental health and wellbeing.

• C - The decision would be made by the woman in consultation with her health practitioner, but after 22 weeks of a pregnancy, the doctor would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate after considering the woman's physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Currently it is a crime to perform an abortion unless certain circumstances apply.

All three options would remove abortion from the Crimes Act - the statutory test would be in health legislation - and remove the requirement for two consultants to approve an abortion, or for a woman to prove it would cause serious physical or mental harm to her.

Most – but not all – medical groups and pro-choice groups favour the first option. Pro-life groups prefer the status quo.

Last night a Newshub-Reid Research Poll showed 43 per cent support for option B, 37 per cent for option A and 12 per cent for option C; 8 per cent did not know.

Little has said his personal preference was option C.

His plans for justice reform have been blocked by NZ First before; he had wanted to repeal the three strikes law, but was unable to without NZ First's support.

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